President Uhuru Kenyatta on Thursday said the ongoing trade talks between Kenya and the US will not undermine the African Continental Free Trade Agreement.
Speaking at State House President Kenyatta during a webinar hosted by the Atlantic Council the President said Kenya’s trade deal with the US will instead assist the continent by creating a reference upon which other African states will negotiate bilateral arrangements within the AfCFTA framework going forward.
“Kenya will be the first under the new AfCTA so we are going to be trailblazers in this and we hope that others will also follow through,” President Kenyatta said.
The theme of the webinar was strengthening US-Africa ties through trade.
The Atlantic Council is an American think tank that seeks to promote constructive leadership and engagement in international affairs. It regularly hosts world leaders to discuss subjects of public interest.
The webinar was moderated by former Financial Times East African Correspondent based in Nairobi Katrina Manson and attended by among others State House Chief of Staff Nzioka Waita.
The President said a Free Trade Agreement between the US and Kenya would reposition Kenya as a gateway of American investments into Africa.
“The essence of an FTA is investment. Ultimately, I believe, Americans themselves will be able to say, why can’t we just invest in Kenya and not only take advantage of Kenya but the region,” Uhuru said.
In the negotiating the FTA, the President said Kenya is going for a win-win arrangement that will benefit both Kenya and the US.
“We believe that all trade negotiations are based on a win-win. We believe that’s the intention of the United States just as much as it is our intention,” he said.
Commenting on Africa’s response to the Covid-19 health crisis and the recent China-Africa Summit, the President said Africa’s foremost concern is to protect its population from the virus. “Coronavirus is mainly a health issue and our key focus is ensuring that we keep our people safe,” the President said.
On the negative economic impact of Covid-19, Uhuru said Kenya and several other African countries working under the auspices of the African Union had put together stimulus packages to support sectors that are badly affected such as tourism and aviation to cope.
He, however, reiterated the AU’s call for more international support to the continent especially in freeing up of finances the continent needs to respond to the pandemic.
“Without a doubt, Kenya like many African and global countries, we are also under fiscal pressure. We need fiscal space so that we are able to re-engage,” President Kenyatta said.
Uhuru met US President Donald Trump in Washington in February this year as the two states started negotiations on a free-trade agreement.
The Star in a report noted that a decision to directly engage the US is likely to draw criticism from other EAC states because 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.
“Based on the rulebook, the EAC has as early as 2015 been pushing for a long-term preferential trade agreement with the US to remove uncertainties over the African Growth and Opportunities Act (Agoa),” the report said.
Foreign Affairs PS Amb Macharia Kamau at the time said Kenya is sensitive to the concerns of its neighbours in East Africa, where many goods transit tariff-free and which would, therefore, be affected by US goods coming into Kenya.