US starts resetting trade ties with Kenya to reflect Biden priorities

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

The US government on Monday started reshaping trade deals with Kenya to reflect the priorities of the Joe Biden administration, American officials said.

The US and Kenya agreed to discuss an “ambitious” trade arrangement with “high-standard commitments” in key areas including agriculture, digital trade and climate change, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) announced on Monday.

The USTR stated this after the US Trade Representative Katherine Tai and Kenya's Trade Cabinet Secretary Betty Maina met on Monday on the margins of the ongoing World Trade Organization's 12th Ministerial at WTO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

Ministers from across the globe are convening for a conference at the WTO in Geneva for the first time in more than four years on June 12-15.

Ms Tai, who is the head of USTR, is the US Trade Representative, a member of the US Cabinet who serves as President Biden’s principal trade adviser, negotiator, and spokesperson on the trade agenda.

"They discussed a number of issues where the United States and Kenya could develop an ambitious roadmap for enhanced cooperation and, where appropriate, explore negotiating high-standard commitments," a statement from Ms Tai's office said without divulging additional details.

Ms Maina did not respond to our inquiries on more details on the talks.

"As a next step, the two countries will work to finalize a list of areas for cooperation to deepen economic engagement, and the two ministers agreed to meet again in the coming weeks to announce the next steps," the USTR said.

Any new direction or proposals will likely follow the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which Ms Tai has referred to as “a new model for trade agreements" with the US, analysts say.

Ms Tai has expressed support for stringent labour rules, which allow the US to threaten trade penalties if factories in other countries which are party to a trade pact are allegedly denying collective bargaining rights.

She has also stressed a link between trade and sustainability and efforts to reduce barriers to trade in environmental goods and services, curb harmful subsidies on fossil fuels, and offer voluntary guidelines on ecolabeling.

The Biden administration has also identified fighting corruption at home and abroad as its core national security interest.

On digital trade, the US has sought to protect US tech giants like Facebook and Google by calling for the scrapping of customs duties on digital products, restrictions on data localization (or forcing companies to store user data within a country), and a ban on rules that restrict cross-border data transfers.

Kenya has separately been uncomfortable with Joe Biden's administration’s push for a global minimum rate of tax on multinational companies that will force it to drop the digital services tax of 1.5 percent of sales by US tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Amazon.

The proposed Kenya-US agreement to explore new trade opportunities under a new roadmap came in the wake of a meeting early last month where US officials and their Kenyan counterparts outlined ways to enhance bilateral trade between the two countries.

The fresh round of trade talks had raised hopes of a fresh direction after the Biden administration froze Trump-era negotiations on the free trade agreement.

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