The US is launching trade talks with Kenya as it seeks to secure its first bilateral trade agreement with a sub-Saharan African country.The announcement, made following a visit to the White House by Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenyan president, marks a shift away from Washington’s usual approach to striking multilateral trade deals in Africa.Donald Trump, US president, has said he would like to replace the 20-year-old African Growth and Opportunity Act, which expires in 2025, with a series of bilateral trade deals between the US and African countries.The existing multilateral deal — known as Agoa — gives about 40 African states tariff-free access to the US for 6,500 products, and has come under fire from officials in Washington who want African economies to further open up to US goods and services. “Under President Trump’s leadership, 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,” said Robert Lighthizer, US trade representative on Thursday.Mr Lighthizer added that any bilateral agreement between the US and Kenya would “complement Africa’s regional integration efforts”, including the African Continental Free Trade Area.Congress will now be notified of the Trump administration’s intention to begin negotiations. Richard Neal, the Democratic chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, which oversees trade, indicated that any trade deal between the US and Kenya would need to protect workers’ rights, as well as contain environmental protections and demonstrate good governance.
Mr Neal said that he had long been a supporter of US trade engagement with Africa through programmes like Agoa. “Kenya is an important trading partner and leader on the African continent,” he added.The trade talks launched as the US-Kenya trade and investment working group, established in August 2018, held its third meeting in Washington this week. In that meeting, Kenya agreed to adopt a phytosanitary protocol that would allow American wheat growers in Washington State, Oregon, and Idaho access to Kenya’s $470m wheat market for the first time in over a decade.According to US statistics, two-way trade between Kenya and the US was about $1bn in 2018, with a $280m surplus in Kenya’s favour. In the same year, Kenya’s total trade with China, its biggest partner, was more than $5bn, with almost all of that going from China to Kenya.