Trump Bets on Kenya for Africa Trade Pacts as Negotiations Begin
(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. and Kenya started negotiating a free-trade agreement on Wednesday, paving the way for President Donald Trump’s push for bilateral pacts in Africa.
“We look forward to negotiating and concluding a comprehensive, high-standard agreement with Kenya that can serve as a model for additional agreements across Africa,” U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said in a joint statement with Kenyan Trade Secretary Betty Maina.
Trump is moving to reset U.S. trade relationships with regions and nations across the world including Mexico, Canada, China, Europe, the U.K. In sub-Saharan Africa, he prefers bilateral agreements to the African Growth Opportunity Act, which allows about 6,500 products from 39 nations preferential access to the U.S. and expires in 2025.
“To the U.S., it’s largely symbolic,” said Gyude Moore, a Washington-based Center for Global Development senior policy fellow and a former Liberian minister. “The Trump administration gets to show a substantive outcome for its ‘Prosper Africa’ objective of doubling two-way trade.”
The U.S. sells products including aircraft and equipment to Kenya, while the East African nation ships textiles, flowers, fruit and vegetables. Kenya, which is the largest supplier of flowers to Europe, wants to rapidly increase its shipments of blooms to the U.S., Maina said by phone.
Trade between the two nations was about $1 billion last year, and Kenya isn’t among the U.S.’s top 90 trading partners, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Kenya has embraced the prospect of continuing to export to the U.S., despite concerns this may affect regional plans. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi said in February a bilateral deal could undermine Africa’s push for a continent-wide bloc and weaken its power to negotiate with the U.S.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and U.S. officials have said their deal doesn’t seek to disintegrate broader pacts. “We believe this agreement with Kenya will complement Africa’s regional integration efforts,” Lighthizer said.
Maina said “increasing and sustaining” Kenyan exports to the U.S. requires a predictable trade arrangement. Kenya is also keen to attract U.S. investments to create more jobs at home, Maina said in the statement.
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