Kenya upbeat, but is at pains to defend free trade deal with US

Monday June 22 2020

US President Donald Trump walks with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta at the White House in Washington, DC, on February 6, 2020. Kenya is oozing with confidence ahead of the July commencement of negotiations for a free trade agreement (FTA) with the United States. PHOTO | NICHOLAS KAMM | AFP


Kenya is oozing with confidence ahead of the July commencement of negotiations for a free trade agreement (FTA) with the United States.

“Trade negotiations are not about winner takes all. Everybody must leave the table feeling a winner,” said President Uhuru Kenyatta in a webinar last Thursday hosted by the Atlantic Council themed, Strengthening US-Africa ties Through Trade.

The Atlantic Council is a non-partisan organisation that galvanises US global leadership and engagement in partnership with allies and partners.

President Kenyatta said Kenya has assembled a strong team for the negotiations in which the two countries are pursuing an FTA whose key objective is to drive investments not only for Kenya but the region and continent at large.

“We believe that all trade negotiations are based on a win-win premise.

“We believe that’s the intention of the United States just as much as it is ours,” he said.


In a show of self-confidence, President Kenyatta said Kenya and the US will engage in a partnership of equals when negotiating the trade deal, even as it emerged that the country is yet to identify its priority areas.


The US has made public what it expects from the trade deal talks and has identified 21 priorities cutting across agriculture, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, financial services and ICT and which it will be seeking unfettered access to in the Kenyan market.

Kenya’s pursuit of bilateral negotiations with the US has been criticised by some African countries who have signed the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) and those of the East African Community bloc who see Kenya’s decision to go it alone, as being contrary to regional treaties.

President Kenyatta, however, sought to dispel fears that the trade talks will undermine the AfCFTA, stating that they will instead assist the continent by creating a reference point from which other African nations will negotiate bilateral arrangements within the continental framework.

“We will be trailblazers and hope other countries follow suit,” he added.”

Despite assertions of a partnership of equals for a country whose per capita income stands at $3,440 against the America’s $63,690, critics contend that Kenya is making mistake that could annihilate its already struggling agriculture and manufacturing sectors if it opens up its fragile market to US products.

The East African Trade Network (EATN), one of the organisations opposed to the trade deal, says Kenya lacks the muscle for unrestricted trade with the US, and that pursuing an FTA will expose it to skewed competition that will largely favour US products.


The EATN is a lobby bringing together civil society organisations, farmers’ groups and trade unions from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi.

The lobby avers that signing the FTA will undermine Africa’s integration, expose Kenya to trade and investments disputes and the country runs the risk of having what it terms “regulatory chill” where countries are unwilling to implement progressive legislation for human rights or environmental conservation.

“Kenya has not fully utilised the preferential scheme under African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) and it beats logic how it will gain under the proposed FTA,” says EATN.

The trade deal is also facing opposition from individuals with two lawyers filing a petition at the East African Court of Justice arguing that it violates the EAC Treaty and its protocols.

- Additional reporting by Anthony Kitimo