Economy

Trump sucked into Kenya plastic ban row

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US President Donald Trump. AFP PHOTO

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Summary

  • Faced with a thinning market for fossil fuels, oil majors have gradually turned to plastics as an alternative revenue stream with their eyes mainly on Africa.
  • Documents show that Kenya is among countries targeted for plastic exports trade by the American Chemistry Council—an industry group representing he world’s largest chemical makers and fossil fuel makers.
  • Amid protests from environmental lobbies, the US Congress members urged President Trump not to heed calls by the American oil and chemical firms.

President Donald Trump has been sucked into a row between members of the US Congress and big oil companies that are pushing to have Kenya drop its strict limits on plastics in the ongoing bilateral trade talks with Washington.

In a letter to Mr Trump, some 62 members of the US Congress urged the US government to resist any actions that would undermine Kenya’s efforts to restrict the importation and consumption of single-use plastics and other pollutants amid concerns about health and environment safety.

“The United States should make no attempt to undermine Kenya’s, or any other developing nations, domestic law or regional agreement developed to meaningfully protect the health and environment of its people such as bans on plastic bags and restrictions on single-use plastics” the lawmakers said in the October 1 letter.

Faced with a thinning market for fossil fuels, oil majors have gradually turned to plastics as an alternative revenue stream with their eyes mainly on Africa.

Documents show that Kenya is among countries targeted for plastic exports trade by the American Chemistry Council—an industry group representing he world’s largest chemical makers and fossil fuel makers.

“We anticipate that Kenya could serve in the future as a hub for supplying US-made chemicals and plastics to other markets in Africa,“ the council’s director for international trade, Ed Brzytwa, said in an April 28 letter to the US Trade Representative.

The oil majors want Kenya’s limits on plastics reviewed in the ongoing negotiations for free trade deal, which would replace the current regime under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa). Agoa allows sub-Saharan African countries to export thousands of products to the US without tariffs or quotas until 2025.

Amid protests from environmental lobbies, the US Congress members urged President Trump not to heed calls by the American oil and chemical firms.

“Dear Mr. President: As you negotiate a trade deal between the United States and Kenya, we write to express our strong opposition to efforts to weaken Kenya’s restrictions on importation or consumption of single-use plastic and other products responsible for plastic pollution,” the lawmakers said.

“The United States’ solution to the plastic pollution crisis cannot be to simply open more markets abroad for plastic products and find destinations to send increasing amounts of plastic waste. This is totally at odds with the global policy solution to prevent plastic pollution -- not to mention climate change.”

Kenya in 2017 imposed what was hailed as the world’s strictest ban on the use, manufacturing and import of plastic bags, inspiring similar bans in other African countries whose streets, waterways and even trees have long been choked with the tattered bags.

Among additional countries and regions that have taken action against the use of plastic bags are China, Bangladesh, the US State of California, Denmark, Hong Kong, Ireland, South Africa, Rwanda, Tanzania and the United Kingdom.