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Washington talks multilateralism but offers soothing words on bilateral trade with Nairobi

The United States is to conclude its trade talks with Kenya, allaying concerns they would stall under President Biden's administration

President Joe Biden's government is 'looking forward to continue the ongoing discussions with regard to our FTA,' Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said on Tuesday (27 April) in a virtual meeting with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Talks on a US-Kenya trade pact had begun last year, with Biden's predecessor Donald Trump picking Kenya as the first sub-Saharan African country to get a bespoke trade accord (AC Vol 61 No 17, Trading favours).

That had prompted concerns in Nairobi that Biden, who has promised to 'rebuild partnerships' with African leaders, would not offer them privileged status. These were amplified when US Trade Representative Katherine Tai said earlier this month that the Kenya talks had been placed under review to ensure any agreement aligns with Biden's policy agenda. 

Kenya's neighbours in the East African Community have complained that a pact with the US would undercut their single external tariff.

For Kenyatta's government, however, a US trade pact represents both a political win and a level of economic certainty. The Africa Growth and Opportunity Act is due to expire in 2025, and its future is uncertain, though there are hints that the Biden administration will either extend it again, or upgrade it.

However, time is running out for a deal to be fast tracked through the US Congress. The current Trade Promotion Authority agreement, which allows for a single Congressional vote on a trade deal without allowing amendments, expires at the end of June.

Ahead of Blinken's first visit to Kenya and Nigeria, albeit virtual because of the Covid-19 pandemic, US officials had played down the significance of the choice of the two countries (AC Vol 62 No 9, Lobby shops curry favour & No more picking winners).

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