Kenya’s deal with the US for a Free Trade Agreement is taking shape with United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer notifying Congress officially of a plan that is likely to threaten the unity of the East African Community.
In a letter dated March 17, 2020, President Trump through Mr Lighthizer wrote to Nancy Pelosi, US Senate Speaker; Senator Charles Schumer, Minority Leader; Kevin McCarthy, Minority Leader US House of Representatives; Charles Grassley, President Pro Tempore, of the US Senate, notifying them of the president’s intentions.
“I am pleased to notify Congress that the president intends to initiate negotiations on a trade agreement with the Republic of Kenya. We are committed to concluding these negotiations with timely and substantive results for US consumers, businesses farmers, ranchers and workers consistent with US priorities and negotiating objectives established by Congress in statute.”
“In pursuing negotiations on a trade agreement with Kenya, we are responding to Congress support, as expressed in the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), to negotiate reciprocal and mutually beneficial trade agreements that serve the interests of both the US and sub-Saharan Africa,” said Mr Lighthizer in a letter to the Senate Speaker.
The deal comes hot on the heels of the second official visit of President Uhuru Kenyatta to Washington a month ago. It was also a follow-up to trade and security talks that Kenya held with the US two years ago.
The proposed deal, if passed, would see Kenya open its borders for duty-free imports from the US, while Nairobi would also get to export a range of goods tax-free to the US. The two countries share around $1 billion in trade annually.
However, the deal has raised concerns within the EAC where critics aver the planned bilateral agreement would be a breach of regional and continental trade protocols.
EAC trade officials in Arusha say the deal is potentially in breach of Section 37 of the East African Community Customs Union Protocol that requires a member state to inform its partners of its intentions before such a deal is signed.
In response, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary in charge of Agriculture Peter Munya argued that the proposed deal is intended to replace the Agoa agreement, which expires in 2025 and allowed duty-free access of a wide range of African goods to the US.