Kenya: 'Uhuru–Blinken talks a breath of life to US trade deal'

Kenya: 'Uhuru–Blinken talks a breath of life to US trade deal'
Published
Thursday, 29 April 2021 ~ Martin Mwita

Trade talks between Kenya and the US could resume soon following Tuesday's virtual meeting between President Uhuru Kenyatta and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

This is after a five-month break occasioned by change of g-uard in the US as President Joe Biden took over from Donald Trump after last November’s elections.

The settling down of the Biden administration put foreign trade negotiations and policies on hold, which included negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Kenya, which commenced on July 8, last year.

Uhuru and Blinken discussed trade and investment opportunities, where they touched on the untapped potential held by the FTA, according to Government Spokesperson Kanze Dena.

“Once again, President Kenyatta affirmed Kenya’s commitment to strengthening its bilateral ties and forging a strong partnership with the United States of America,” she said in a  statement.

President Kenyatta was accompaied by Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo and Head of Public Service  Joseph Kinyua during the  meeting.

"Good convo(conversation) with President Kenyatta on the importance of the US-Kenya strategic partnership and opportunities to address global challenges and regional crises. Together, we can promote economic prosperity, security, human rights, and democracy in Kenya and globally,” US’s Bureau of African Affairs tweeted yesterday.

The latest development has cemented the trade talks, which had slowly started to pick up early this month when trade CS Betty Maina and US Trade representative Katherine Tai held talks.

Apart from the change of guard in Washington, the Covid-19 pandemic has also slowed down the talks. 

While the FTA has been criticised for favouring the US, Kenya is pushing to secure a free trade pact ahead of the lapse of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) in 2025, which eliminates import tariffs on goods from eligible African nations.

More than 70 percent of Kenya's exports are duty-free under AGOA.

The US is keen to secure comprehensive market access for its agricultural goods in Kenya by reducing or eliminating tariffs.

The two countries seek to develop rules of origin that ensure that the benefits of the agreement go to products genuinely made in the United States and Kenya.

Kenya has set up a technical support team of 90 experts to help with the negotiations.

According to  Maina, Kenya seeks to tap at least five per cent of the US market, which has the potential to earn the country more than Sh2 trillion in export revenues annually.

Last year, Kenya’s domestic exports to the US totaled Sh48.2 billion against imports of Sh40.2 billion.

The pandemic affected the volumes which were recorded at $600 million (Sh64.7billion) worth of goods to the US in 2019, mainly textile and apparel, tea, coffee, fish products and nuts.

“One of our targets is to ensure we capture more market,” said Maina.

The Kenya-US deal has been critisised by a section of African countries and the East African Community, arguing that it undermines the ongoing implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area.

Maina has however affirmed that the talks between Kenya and US will not undermine Kenya's previous agreements with regional and continental trading blocks.

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