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Kenya, US revisit trade talks, agree to expedite process

Katherine Tai and Betty Maina met on the sideline of the WTO Ministerial Conference in Geneva.

In Summary

•The two ministers agreed to meet in coming weeks with an announcement of next steps expected before end of July.

•The latest developments now gives hope to the deal that was facing possible delays over anxieties arising from the forthcoming Kenya’s August elections. 

US Trade Representative Katherine Tai and Kenya’s Industrialization, Trade and Enterprise Development CS Betty Maina on the sideline of the WTO Ministerial Conference in Geneva/TRADE MINISTRY
US Trade Representative Katherine Tai and Kenya’s Industrialization, Trade and Enterprise Development CS Betty Maina on the sideline of the WTO Ministerial Conference in Geneva/TRADE MINISTRY

Kenya and the US have revisited trade talks between the two countries as ministers meet at the World Trade Organization's 12th Ministerial Conference in Geneva.

As a next step, the two countries have agreed to work to finalise a list of areas for cooperation to deepen economic engagement.

This was during an engagement between the US Trade Representative ambassador Katherine Tai and Kenya’s Industrialization, Trade and Enterprise Development Cabinet Secretary Betty Maina.

The two have agreed to meet again in the coming weeks to announce next steps before end of next month (July).

It will build on the successful consultative meeting of experts from the two countries held in Kenya in May 2022.

In a statement yesterday, the US said ambassador Tai and CS Maina agreed to explore pathways towards a deeper bilateral trade and economic relationship that promotes sustainable and inclusive economic growth.

They are also keen on a deal that benefits workers, consumers, and businesses (including Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises),and one that supports African regional economic integration.

  “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,” the statement read in part.

Issues discussed include trade facilitation and customs, standards, services digital trade, environment and climate change, and agriculture. 

The latest developments now gives hope to the deal that was facing possible delays over anxieties arising from the forthcoming Kenya’s August elections. 

A lot of attention in Kenya has shifted to campaigns after the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission cleared aspirants for the presidential, governorship and other elective posts.

CS Maina, who is driving the talks, however affirms that Kenya remains committed to the signing of the Free Trade Area (FTA) agreement. 

The negotiations which started during former US President Donald Trump and Uhuru’s regime, on July 8, 2020, were nevertheless derailed by the 2020 US elections.

When President Joe Biden took office in January last year, his administration sought more time to scrutinise the pact.

The talks were also disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic before the US elections.

The US is pushing for favourable terms among them a duty free market access for its goods, including agricultural and industrial, in a move aimed at taming the growing dominance of China’s trade with Kenya.

Last year, China remained the single leading source of Kenya’s imports, accounting for 20.5 per cent of the total imports valued at Sh441.4 billion, the Economic Survey 2022 shows.

Imports from the US were valued at Sh84.2 billion in the year, which was an increase from Sh56.3 billion.

“This was largely attributable to expenditure on imported liquefied butanes, aircraft equipment and parts, and medical and pharmaceutical products,” the survey by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics notes.

Objectives captured in a document by the US Trade Representative’s office indicates the country is keen to secure comprehensive market access for US agricultural goods in Kenya by reducing or eliminating tariffs.

“…Eliminate practices that unfairly decrease US market access opportunities or distort agricultural markets to the detriment of the United States, including non-tariff barriers that discriminate against US agricultural goods, and restrictive rules in the administration of tariff rate quotas,” the document reads in part.

The US is also pushing for a competitive procurement space in government, eradication of corruption, adequate and effective protection of intellectual property rights, removal of non-tarrif barriers, favourable sanitary and phytosanitary measure among other interests.

Kenya on the other hand seeks to protect its local industries and sectors even as it pushes for favourable terms to grow its exports.

While it takes at least two years to conclude a Free Trade Agreement, according to experts, the timelines for the Kenya-US deal still remain open.

“Once you are in a partnership, you agree to talk until you decide you cant agree or you agree. We are maintaining fidelity to our objectives,” the CS told the Star in a recent telephone conversation.

The US is the largest export destination of Kenya’s apparel, accounting for over 90 percent of garment exports every year, a sector that stands out as the biggest beneficiary in an improved trade environment under the FTA.

The current developments mean the deal will hopefully be concluded by the next regime of government that will take over from President Uhuru.

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