Kenya and the US on Wednesday formally launched negotiations for a bilateral Free Trade Agreement.
In the meeting in which President Uhuru Kenyatta virtually attended, Kenya was represented by Trade Cabinet Secretary Betty Maina, her Interior counterpart Dr Fred Matiang’i and State House Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategy Ruth Kagia.
The US delegation was led by the country’s Trade Representative Ambassador Robert Lighthizer.
A joint statement by Maina and Lighthizer said they were holding an initial round of talks virtually over the next two weeks due to the coronavirus.
“We believe this agreement with Kenya will complement Africa’s regional integration efforts, including in the East African Community and the landmark African Continental Free Trade Area” Maina and Lighthizer said in the statement.
Kenya is seeking a deal with the US before the expiry of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act popularly known as AGOA in 2025.
The deal allows sub-Saharan African states to export to the America without tariffs or quotas.
Two-way goods trade between the two states was $1.1 billion in 2019, up 4.9 per cent from 2018.
“Proposed Free Trade Agreement talks between Kenya and US will not undermine Kenya’s previous agreements with regional and continental trading blocks,” Maina said.
As this was happening, US Ambassador to Kenya Kyle McCarter was lobbying Kenyan Parliament through a meeting with new National Assembly Majority Leader Amos Kimunya.
“Wonderful discussion on Free Trade Agreement & #USAMarafiki Kenya relationship today w/ Leader @HonAmosKimunya Great country allies are built on great personal relationships. Keep leading Kenya well, sir,” McCarter tweeted.
“Those who are determined to be negative, think the worst, give up hope and make judgments regarding things they know nothing about can take no credit when the country succeeds…but they will,” he added.
President Uhuru Kenyatta met US President Donald Trump in Washington early this year as the two states started negotiations on the agreement.
Notably, this will be US’s first such deal with a sub-Saharan nation.
The deal has received criticism from some quarters, as experts argue Kenya will lose in the pact.
A summary of key negotiation points in the proposed deal shows Washington is seeking unfettered access to a host of key sectors in Kenya, East Africa’s largest economy.
The document, published by the Office of the US Trade Representative shows Kenya is expected to reduce or lift tariffs on all American agricultural and digital products, and also open its maritime, textile, telecommunications, financial services, and pharmaceuticals industries, among other sectors deemed sensitive to US investors.
The bilateral deal bilateral deal is also said to be a breach — on Kenya’s side — of the East African Community and the African continental free trade agreement, both of which Kenya is a signatory.
Kenya surrendered its customs space to the regional bloc in 2005 when it signed the Customs Union Protocol. The rules and regulations require member states to negotiate all trade pacts jointly.