Economy

Biden signals resumption of free trade talks with Kenya

Joe Biden and Uhuru Kenyatta

US President Joe Biden meets with his Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, on October 14, 2021. PHOTO | AFP

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Summary

  • The US has until now remained mum on the fate of the free trade pact after meetings between Kenyan and US officials held last year signalling a persisting deadlock.
  • Kenya wanted to do a deal with Washington before the expiry of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), which allows sub-Saharan African countries to export thousands of products to the United States without tariffs or quotas until 2025.
  • In addition to the UK and Kenya negotiations, the Biden administration has shown little interest in agreements like the Environmental Goods Agreement and the Trade in Services Agreement.

The US government has signalled the resumption of stalled negotiations for a free trade agreement (FTA) between Nairobi and Washington, amidst growing unease in Kenya about the delay to conclude the deal.

In a new report submitted to the US Congress by Joe Biden’s top trade diplomat Ambassador Katherine Tai, the Biden Administration said it “will hold further conversations with the Kenyan Government to establish a shared vision and partnership for economic resilience and to promote investment.”

“The United States is committed to continue working with Kenya to deepen our trade and investment relationship, including by advancing worker-centred trade policies and promoting regional and continental economic integration in Africa,” said the US Trade Representative’s office (USTR) in the report published on March 1.

“The Biden Administration will hold further conversations with the Kenyan Government to establish a shared vision and partnership for economic resilience and to promote investment, equitable and inclusive development, sustainable trade, and African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) implementation.”

The USTR did not provide any timelines for resuming the stalled talks.

The report titled Biden’s 2022 Trade Policy Agenda and 2021 Annual Report to Congress captures details of USTR’s planned work to implement the Biden Administration’s trade priorities this year.

The US has until now remained mum on the fate of the free trade pact after meetings between Kenyan and US officials held last year signalling a persisting deadlock.

Kenya wanted to do a deal with Washington before the expiry of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), which allows sub-Saharan African countries to export thousands of products to the United States without tariffs or quotas until 2025.

The proposed trade deal has faced delays after the Biden administration sought more time to scrutinise the pact that had been negotiated by his predecessor, Donald Trump.

The Biden administration had however called for the objectives of the bilateral pact to be recast to recognise Biden’s agenda with some of the aims of the negotiations set by the Trump administration likely to be dropped.

In addition to the UK and Kenya negotiations, the Biden administration has shown little interest in agreements like the Environmental Goods Agreement and the Trade in Services Agreement, which could help the president advance his environmental objectives and promote America’s pandemic-stricken services sector.

In its place, the Biden administration’s trade agenda places a premium on enforcing existing trade deals, strengthening America’s manufacturing supply chains, and encouraging domestic investment and innovation.

The proposed trade deal is seen as a pointer to how America will engage with Africa, especially in the face of China’s growing influence on the continent.

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