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

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

U.S. and Kenyan officials emphasized that a bilateral 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 U.S. “is definitely not the case,” and Lighthizer said the U.S. 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.”

In the meantime, USTR said, the U.S.-Kenya Trade and Investment Working Group announced after a recent meeting in Washington, D.C., that Kenya has adopted a phytosanitary protocol that allows wheat growers in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho access to Kenya’s $470 million wheat market for the first time in over a decade. The working group also noted the development of a plan to provide technical assistance and trade capacity building with the aim of maximizing Kenya’s utilization of trade benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act. According to USTR, more than 70 percent of Kenya’s exports to the U.S. enter under AGOA, which is set to expire in 2025.

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