Kenya Sees U.S.-Africa Trade Pace-Setter Role; Warns on Security

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(Bloomberg) --

Kenya, set to negotiate a free-trade agreement with the U.S., sees itself as a pace-setter for bilateral deals with the world’s biggest economy in sub-Saharan Africa while remaining committed to integration on the continent, President Uhuru Kenyatta said.

“We are definitely not breaking away -- Kenya has no intention whatsoever,” Kenyatta said when asked about the nation’s bilateral move with the U.S. at an event in Washington Wednesday. “We recognize the importance of regional integration and trade. If Kenya is ready, and others may not be as ready, let us be the pace-setters, let us be the path, and others can learn from our mistakes.”

Kenyatta, who is due to meet President Donald Trump Thursday, said he is “greatly looking forward to making an early, ambitious start to arrangements for the foreseen end to the AGOA program in 2025." He was referring to the African Growth Opportunity Act which provides 39 sub-Saharan African countries duty-free access to the U.S. for about 6,500 products ranging from textiles to manufactured items. “A free-trade agreement will be a game-changer.”

Kenya Sees U.S.-Africa Trade Pace-Setter Role; Warns on Security

U.S. ambassador to Kenya Kyle McCarter confirmed last week that the two nations are set to start trade talks. The Trump administration wants the accord to be a model for future pacts with other nations in the region, according to a person familiar with the plans.

The African Union favors a free-trade agreement to replace AGOA when it expires, AU Trade and Industry Commissioner Albert Muchanga said in August. All bar one of the continent’s 54 nations have signed up to join the African Continental Free Trade Area, an AU-led initiative designed to establish the world’s largest free-trade zone by area, encompassing a combined economy of $2.5 trillion and a market of 1.2 billion people.

Asking the U.S. to see Africa as more than a continent that produces security threats and is a source of “unwanted migration,” Kenyatta said America should invest in the region to create decent jobs for millions of young people, which will help with stability, security, and generating returns for American capital.

Kenya maintains soldiers in an African Union force that’s helping prop up Somalia’s government. The Islamic militant group al-Shabaab, affiliated to al-Qaeda, has staged more than 150 attacks in Kenya since the country intervened in Somalia. Its members have also carried out bombings in Uganda and Djibouti, which have also contributed personnel to the African mission. Al-Shabeeb is Arabic for “the youth.”

A failure to create opportunities for young people creates “an unsustainable situation and if this reality does not change quickly we will produce in Africa many security crises that will leave no corner of this globe untouched.”

Kenyatta also called on the U.S. to help stem ideological extremism, and to help deal with illicit financial flows and criminals who are uniting to “seriously challenge to continuity of states in parts of Africa and the world,” he said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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