By Andrea Shalal
(Reuters) – The United States has not ruled out more comprehensive trade negotiations with Kenya after launching a strategic trade and investment partnership with the African country on Thursday, Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Sarah Bianchi told Reuters.
Bianchi said U.S. trade officials viewed the agreement with Kenya as a potential model for other countries. Officials would focus in coming months on hammering out high-standard agreements in areas such as agriculture safety and digital trade standards, climate change and customs procedures.
She said there could be future talks on a broader deal with Kenya, as U.S. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal has suggested, but said the next “several months” would be focused on the just-announced partnership.
“We haven’t ruled out doing more comprehensive negotiations,” Bianchi told Reuters in an interview, when asked if Washington could pursue a free trade agreement with Kenya. “Our goal right now is to expand the bilateral relationship and get agreement on a whole number of these important issues.”
No other African countries had yet expressed interest in a non-tariff partnership deal like the one with Kenya, but that could happen as well, she said.
“Kenya has really stepped forward and this could be a model for things going forward,” she said. “We don’t have any immediate plans with any other countries but certainly all eyes are on this initiative and seeing if it becomes a model.”
The United States and Kenya on Thursday launched a strategic trade and investment partnership focused on boosting economic growth, supporting African regional economic integration and deepening trade cooperation, but made no mention of reducing tariffs or enhancing market access.
The deal calls for the U.S. and Kenyan governments to start work within three months on a road map for engagement in areas including agriculture safety and digital trade standards, climate change, regulatory practices, and customs procedures.
Kenya and the United States had launched negotiations for a free trade agreement to lower bilateral tariffs under the Trump administration in 2020. But the Biden administration, which has shunned traditional trade deals, did not resume those talks.
Kenya already enjoys substantial duty-free access to the U.S. market through the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), but had wanted to lock in those trade preferences before AGOA expires in September 2025.
Kenya exported $685.1 million worth of goods to the United States in 2021, chiefly apparel, macadamia nuts, coffee, tea and titanium ores, while the United States exported $561.6 million in goods to Kenya in 2021, with aircraft, plastics, machinery and wheat among the biggest categories.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal and David Lawder; Editing by Susan Fenton)