Anthills in US, Kenya trade talks
Fred Aminga @Faninga
No sooner had Kenya’s bullish economic diplomacy stance with United States taken off than it ran into headwinds, with lawyers moving to court claiming the deal will hurt Uganda and Tanzania, fellow East African Community (EAC) member States.
That school of thought exemplifies the underlying fear against the ongoing bilateral talks with similar sentiments coming from some proponents of the larger continental pact, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
As the Kenya-US trade talks ensue, however, the case challenging Kenya’s free trade pact at the East Africa Court of Justice by two lawyers, Christopher Oyieko and Emily Osiemo, is not the only handicap.
Stating that the ongoing free trade agreement (FTA) talks be nullified by the regional court, they warned the regional court that it “violates Article 72(3) of the protocol on establishment of the East African Community Common Market for failing to ensure the council puts in place a mechanism for the co-ordination of trade relations with third parties.”
President Uhuru Kenyatta and US leader Donald Trump agreed on the bilateral trade idea in February in what was seen as giving Kenya an economic lifeline and also an opportunity for US’s bid to counter China’s expanding investment imprint in Africa.
From the ongoing bilateral talks, Kenya is eyeing a 5 per cent share of the US market hoping to increase export revenue to Sh2 trillion through export of duty free coffee, tea, textile and apparel, tree nuts, fish and fish products.
Kenya wants to strike the deal before the expiry of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) which allows sub-Saharan African states to export thousands of products to the US without tariffs or quotas until 2025.
The Trump administration also sees this as an opportunity to trade with the rest of the continent. US trade representative Robert Lighthizer expressed optimism that the agreement with Kenya would complement Africa’s regional integration efforts, including in the East African Community and the landmark AfCFTA.
“The United States pledges its continued support to help the AfCFTA achieve its fullest potential,” he said when the talks began officially last week.
However, people privy to the bilateral trade deals say that while the ongoing talks between Kenya and US can go on, it will take the final signatures for a trade deal to be reached.
However, like all bilateral trade deals, it will take time and must take care of all contentious issues. This will include Kenya’s obligations to the EAC and the greater AfCFTA.
Taken to congress
More so, the experts add, even if lawsuits do not stop the deal and an agreement is reached between the two countries, it must be taken to Congress.
This is another process which will definitely hold up the deal further going by the treatment of revamped US-Mexico-Canada trade deal by Congress among other deals.
But the resolve will also depend on President Donald J. Trump’s appetite for a trade deal with Kenya amid his aggressive push for more bilateral trade deals, hoping to counter growing Chinese influence on the continent.