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U.S. to Negotiate Trade Agreement with Kenya to Counter Mainland China’s Influence

The United States and Kenya announced on 6 February plans to negotiate a bi-lateral trade agreement. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said the United States wants a “comprehensive, high-standard” deal “that can serve as a model for additional agreements across Africa.” Press sources note that the United States is looking to the Kenya deal, and others it could spawn across the continent, to help counter the growing influence of mainland China in the region.

Lighthizer indicated that the U.S.-Kenya agreement will be negotiated under the current trade promotion authority law, which provides for expedited congressional consideration if the White House meets specified criteria. As a result, Lighthizer will submit a formal notice of intent to begin negotiations to Congress (which starts a 90-day clock after which talks can begin); publish notices in the Federal Register requesting public input on the direction, focus and content of the negotiations; and publish objectives for the negotiations at least 30 days before talks begin.

USTR said a trade agreement will help realise the “enormous potential” for deepening bi-lateral economic and commercial ties. Two-way goods trade totalled just US$1.1 billion in 2019, up 4.9 percent from 2018. Top U.S. exports to Kenya in 2019 included aircraft (US$59 million), plastics (US$58 million), machinery (US$41 million)  and wheat (US$27 million), while U.S. imports from Kenya were led by apparel (US$454 million), edible fruit and nuts (US$55 million), titanium ores and concentrates (US$52 million) and coffee (US$34 million).

U.S. and Kenyan officials emphasised that a bi-lateral deal would not detract from the regional integration efforts of which Kenya is a part, including the East African Community and the African Continental Free Trade Area. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said speculation that his country is “running away from our commitment” to the AfCFTA by negotiating a deal with the United States “is definitely not the case,” and Lighthizer said the United States would continue to “help the AfCFTA achieve its fullest potential.” An article in Kenya’s The Star, however, noted that there could be pushback from other EAC member countries because “Kenya surrendered its customs space” to the EAC by entering into a customs union in 2005 and the group’s rules and regulations “require member states to negotiate all trade pacts jointly.”

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