Economy

Ruto, Biden teams open trade talks amid farmers protest

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President William Ruto and US President Joe Biden. FILE PHOTO | POOL

The Ruto administration has begun the negotiation round of the proposed bilateral deal with the United States, which will replace the more-than-two-decade-old African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) amid protestations from smallholder farmers.

The four-day talks, which kicked off in Nairobi on Monday, follow the round of conceptual discussions held in Washington between February 6 and 10.

President William Ruto’s negotiating team, led by Trade PS Alfred K’Ombudo, and America’s under Assistant US Trade Representative for Africa Constance Hamilton are engaging on 11 pillars of the proposed US-Kenya Strategic Trade and Investment Partnership (STIP).

Read: America lists trade deal with Kenya on its 2023 agenda

The areas of focus include facilitating trade in agriculture, fostering consumer, business and worker trust in the digital economy, protecting the environment, integrating micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) into international trade as well as preventing and combating corruption.

The Kenya Small Scale Farmers Forum has, however, protested at the Trade ministry over the lack of stakeholder engagement ahead of the negotiations despite the US counterpart having held the same.

“The government has not shared with farmers or any other stakeholders the negotiating texts proposed by either Kenya or the US. We do not understand why the texts cannot be shared,” said the lobby in a statement.

“There is a need to demystify the issues at play to enable farmers to understand what is at stake.”

The United States Trade Representative Office (USTR) sought public views on the proposed deal with Kenya between August and September last year.

Non-tariff barriers

The Biden administration has made it clear that negotiations with partners, which include Kenya, will include “provisions intended to eliminate or reduce nontariff barriers that can hamper market access for US agricultural products”.

“The administration will seek to include in these agreements enforceable provisions that build on WTO (World Trade Organisation)obligations, including provisions to ensure that sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures are science-based, developed through transparent, predictable processes, and implemented in a nondiscriminatory manner,” the USTR wrote in the 2023 Trade Policy to the Congress on March 1.

US Trade Representative Katherine Tai last month that the Biden administration will “aim to make rapid progress” in negotiations with Kenya in 2023.

“The Biden administration views this approach as one to be built upon to include other areas of mutual interest and to serve as a model for engagement with other willing countries on the African continent,” Ms Tai wrote in the report to the US lawmakers.

Trade between the two countries is tilted in favour of the US, which exported goods worth Sh93.43 billion last year while buying merchandise valued at Sh76 billion from Kenya.

Read: New round of Kenya-US trade talks starts

Kenya largely exports articles of apparel under the Agoa pact, while mainly importing pharmaceutical products and aircraft parts from the world’s largest economy.

The current Agoa deal, a preferential trade programme that allows duty- and quota-free access to the US market for sub-Saharan African countries, will expire in September 2025.

The discussions for the proposed bilateral deal started in earnest in August 2018 when former President Uhuru Kenyatta made a bilateral visit to the White House.

The former presidents of the respective countries — Mr Kenyatta and Donald Trump — at the time identified economic development and trade as the pillar of the “strategic relationship” between Kenya and the US.

The visit came on the back of Mr Trump’s disastrous rhetoric on Africa and had seven months earlier infamously referred to nations in the continent as “shithole”.

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