Somalia stability renews Kenya push for US direct flights

Kenya has stepped up its push for direct flights to the United States following the return of normalcy in Somalia.

Barely three years after the US Homeland Security Department cited security concerns to deny Delta Airlines permission to start flying directly to Nairobi, Trade minister Moses Wetang’ula says a new deal is in the offing.

“At the bilateral level, Kenya and US have broadly agreed to improve the business climate, upgrade infrastructure and introduce direct flights to boost trade and investment,” Mr Wetang’ula said after meeting a US trade delegation on Friday.

Kenya shares an 880km-long border with the Horn of Africa nation which has had no central government since 1991. Government officials say the capture of many parts of Somalia, including the capital Mogadishu and Kismayu Port city by Kenya Defence Forces and African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom has provided a fresh impetus to push for direct flight to America.

A direct air link would promote export of fresh produce, now at less than five per cent of Sh80 billion that the sector earns from various destinations each year. It would also encourage more US tourists to visit Kenya.

Last year, just 162, 300 visitors or 11.8 per cent of the 1.4 million tourists who visited Kenya came from North America.

The delegation led by Deputy US Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis and Nairobi Embassy’s Chargé d’Affaires Robert Godec, were in Nairobi to discuss a proposed treaty on trade and investment with East African Community (EAC) representatives.

In an interview with journalists Mr Wetang’ula said the region was negotiating a treaty that would outlast African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) which will expire in 2015.

“Unlike Agoa which is US legislation that it could arbitrarily opt not to renew, the new treaty that we are negotiating will remain in force for ages,” said Mr Wetang’ula.

Official data indicates that Kenya remains a key US trading partner in East Africa, with bilateral trade reaching Sh71 billion ($846 million) in 2011, up 23 per cent from 2010.

The Homeland Security Department cited Kenya’s proximity to the lawless Somalia as the reason for denying Delta Airlines permission for direct flights to Nairobi.

The visit came four months after EAC and US launched a Trade and Investment Partnership in June this year aimed at reducing trade barriers, improved transport infrastructure and open investment regimes.