US-Kenya trade talks go to public participation in 6th round

Negotiating team moves base to Mombasa from Nairobi.

In Summary

•The public has been invited to participate in a virtual stakeholder listening session which is part of the next negotiating round.

•Public participation opens the deal to both criticism and proposals by the civil society, individuals and private sector, amid earlier concerns that it would favour the US.

President William Ruto and US President Joe Biden at the Oval Office on May 23, 2024.
President William Ruto and US President Joe Biden at the Oval Office on May 23, 2024.

Negotiators in the Kenya-US trade deal are now shifting focus to public input as talks enter the sixth round, amid a push to conclude the process before by end of December.

Public participation will be of the stakeholder listening session, which is part of the next negotiating round as talks move to Mombasa for the first time.

Trade Principal Secretary Alfred K’Ombudo and Assistant United States Trade Representative Constance Hamilton lead the weeklong negotiation.

Kenya’s Investments, Trade and Industry ministry says the two have agreed to continue negotiating on high-standard commitments in other areas to increase investment, promote sustainable and inclusive economic growth, benefit workers, and support African regional economic integration.

Public participation now opens the deal to both critiquing and proposals by the civil society, individuals and private sector, amid earlier concerns that it would favour the US more as it seeks to secure comprehensive market access for its agricultural goods in Kenya, by reducing or eliminating tariffs.

According to Washington-based think tank­– Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), there is still a call for an elimination of duties on goods such as agricultural products, including the 25 per cent duty on US pork.

 The US average effective applied tariff on Kenyan imports was 0.4 per cent in 2021 while Kenya's agriculture sector presents the highest barriers to US exports, with an average tariff of 20.3 per cent and still relatively high tariffs on dairy (51.7 per cent), animal products (23.1 per cent), and cereals (22.2 per cent).

Opening the market for more US agricultural products, at a time when Kenya’s agriculture sector is still building up on value-addition chains, is seen as an impediment.

Econews Africa, a pan African Research and Advocacy organisation and Kenya Small Scale Farmers Forum (KESSFF) have initially argued that entering a free trade pact with US creates “uneven playing field” that leaves poor farmers in poorer countries worse off, while large agribusiness reap the benefits of agricultural trade liberalisation.

 “In the case of agriculture especially, we note that an agreement between a developing country like Kenya and a country that is one of the top agricultural exporters in the world is likely to have a significant impact on Kenya,” Econews executive director, Edgar Ondari, said.

There have also been concerns over other key chapters being negotiated, including digital trade, anti-corruption, good regulatory practices, environment, climate action, and the chapter on workers’ rights and protections. Public participation will be opened on Thursday.

Kenya however enjoys preferential terms on its exports under the AGOA pact.

At the conclusion of the fifth round of negotiations in Washington last month, Kenya’s Trade and Investment CS Rebecca Miano and United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai however affirmed their commitment to work together to conclude the negotiation that “reflect mutually shared goals and values”.

In a statement on Monday, ahead of this week’s negotiations, Miano said deal is intended to promote workers’ rights and protections, advance and support environment and climate change objectives, provide citizens, traders and other interested persons with greater transparency about regulatory processes and more efficient customs procedures.

It will also enhance cooperation on enforcement and promote the application of science and risk-based sanitary and phytosanitary measures and sustainable agricultural practices.

"We have made substantial strides in several key areas. These include anticorruption measures, support for micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), domestic regulation of services, and the initial draft of the agriculture text,” Miano said.

These provisions are strategically designed to facilitate agricultural trade, combat corruption, empower MSMEs and ensure fair treatment of service suppliers, all of which are crucial for economic growth and stability, she added.

Meanwhile, trade remains in favour of the US as Kenya’s earnings from exports dropped to Sh64.4 billion last year from Sh79.9 billion the previous year, the Economic Survey 2024 indicates.

“Specifically, there was a significant decrease in domestic exports of macadamia nuts and titanium ores and concentrates to this destination,” the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics survey states.

The country on the other hand imported goods worth Sh112.8 billion from, an increase from Sh93.4 billion in 2022.

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