Kenya denies secret plastic deal reports in US trade negotiations

The two countries launched negotiations for a free trade agreement on July 8

In Summary
  • Kenya banned on the use, manufacture and import of all plastic bags in 2017
  • Africa trade bodies are against Kenya's FTA talks with the US
Trade CS Betty Maina.
Trade CS Betty Maina.

Kenya will not accept any proposal that goes against environmental laws in its trade negotiations with the United States of America, Trade cabinet secretary Betty Maina has said.

Speaking exclusively to the Star Newspaper, she rubbished a story by an international outlet claiming that the Free Trade Agreement is centered on a deal that will see US corporations import plastic and chemicals, targeting the African market.

''No such proposal has been brought to the negotiating table. Claims in the story are neither here nor there. We will negotiate with US-guided by Kenyan laws,’’ Maina said.

She added that talks are still ongoing and that no agreement has been arrived at yet.

The New York Times story published on Sunday had claimed that an industry group representing the world’s largest chemical makers and fossil fuel companies is lobbying to influence US negotiations with Kenya, to reverse its strict limits on plastics — including a tough plastic-bag ban.

According to the story, the lobby group is also pressing for Kenya to continue importing foreign plastic garbage, a practice it has pledged to limit.

The online article quoted Ed Brzytwa, the director of international trade for the American Chemistry Council to having said that plastics makers are looking well beyond Kenya’s borders.

“We anticipate that Kenya could serve in the future as a hub for supplying U.S.-made chemicals and plastics to other markets in Africa through this trade agreement,” Brzytwa is said to have written in an April 28 letter to the Office of the United States Trade Representative.

The news about the secret behind the trade talk as captured by the piece attracted public outcry, with many taking to Twitter and other social media platforms to ask President Uhuru Kenyatta to come clean. 

''Are we traded for trash? Do leaders in this country really have little care for people?,'' a twitter user Dan Kuto posed. 


''Who will redeem this country from the bunch of looters and self-centered leaders? Was the plastic ban a public relations exercise to please the UN and other donors? This is a new low,'' another one by the name Jasper Mbiti said. 

Kenya announced a ban on the use, manufacture and import of all plastic bags in 2017, supporting the UN’s Clean Seas Initiative.

Anyone found manufacturing, importing, or selling a plastic carrier bag could be fined up to $40,000 (Sh4 million) or face a prison sentence of up to four years. Using the banned bags carries a fine of more than $500 (Sh50,000) or a jail term of up to a year.

The United States and Kenya launched negotiations for a free trade agreement on July 8 this year, attracting an outcry from regional trade bodies. 

They argue that it undermines the ongoing implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

The continental trade body is aimed at accelerating intra-African trade and boosting Africa's trading position in the global market, by strengthening Africa's common voice and policy space in global trade negotiations.

Kenya's trade talks with the US pours cold water on the continent's desire to collectively sign for the Africa Growth Opportunity (AGOA) which expires in 2025. 

The US is the third most important destination for Kenyan exports after Uganda and Pakistan, accounting for eight percent of its total exports.

Kenya exported goods worth $527 million in 2018, primarily apparels, coffee and nuts.

Its imports were mainly commercial airplanes and other spacecraft, polymers and medicaments. Kenya has a slim trade surplus that the US will probably be keen to balance.

According to Trade CS, Kenya is keen to tap at least five per cent of the US market, which has the potential to earn the country more than Sh2 trillion in export revenues annually.