US seeks more time in Kenya trade talks


Ministry of Industrialization, Trade and Enterprise Development Cabinet Secretary Betty C. Maina speaking at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, JKIA on Monday, January 18, 2021. FILE PHOTO | NMG

A new trade deal between Kenya and the US may delay after President Joe Biden’s administration sought more time to scrutinise the pact that had been negotiated by his predecessor, Donald Trump.

The request by Washington could affect a critical deadline for securing swift passage of the deal in the US Congress.

"The US side requested us to give them a few weeks," said Trade Principal Secretary Johnson Weru. "So they will get back to us soon."

The trade deal now stands a slim chance of being covered by a “fast-track” legislation known as the Trade Promotion Authority, (TPA) which expires in two months, raising the prospect of further delays.

Technically, the current TPA allowing a special vote on trade deals with no amendments, expires July 1, 2021.

When protected by that legislation, trade deals such as the one Kenya is negotiating for are effectively “fast tracked” through the US Congress with lawmakers unable to make substantial changes or amendments to the text of the deal.

In order to be protected by the TPA, a US-Kenya trade deal must be put before the US Congress by end of April or in about 10 days.

If that deadline is missed, the deal will either be put before Congress without the fast-track protections offered, and risk being bogged down in dispute, or Kenyan officials could wait for a fresh TPA to be negotiated.

TPA was used to implement and approve the US-Mexico-Canada agreement. It provides authority to the US President to enter into reciprocal trade agreements on reducing tariff and non-tariff barriers.

If there is a trade deal under negotiation at the time of expiration, the sitting president can push for the reauthorisation of TPA in order to assure allies of the United States’ commitment to the deal.

US analysts say it is unlikely that the new Biden administration will prioritise the reauthorisation of TPA as his campaign released no plans to negotiate new trade agreements as a part of its platform.