The United States has been silent on the fate of a free trade pact after U.S. trade chief Katherine Tai met with her Kenyan counterpart Betty Maina on Monday, amid growing unease in Nairobi over the delay by Joe Biden’s administration to close the deal.
Separate statements released by both Kenya’s Trade Cabinet Secretary Betty Maina and her US counterpart, US Trade Chief Katherine Tai, after a virtual meeting provided no timeline for resuming talks stuck on the deal, signaling a lingering deadlock.
Nairobi and Washington, however, have focused on deepening trade engagement between the two countries.
During the meeting, Ambassador Tai discussed the importance of Kenya and the African continent to the Biden-Harris administration. Trade ministers also discussed their shared worker-centered values, a resilient recovery from a pandemic and strengthening economic and trade relations between the United States and Kenya, “said a statement released by Ms. Tai’s USTR team in Washington after the meeting.
“In addition to reflecting on the importance and their mutual support for African integration, Ambassador Tai and Cabinet Secretary Maina agreed on the importance of strengthening bilateral engagement between the two countries and pledged to maintain an open dialogue in the future. “
A separate statement released by Kenya’s Ministry of Commerce, however, set an optimistic tone about the future of the deal, indicating that Nairobi remains committed to concluding the talks.
The statement said Ms. Maina expressed “Kenya’s desire to negotiate and conclude a predictable trade deal that gives confidence to investors while upholding Kenya’s commitments under its regional, continental and multilateral trade agreements.”
“Amb. Tai observed that the United States was interested in an approach to trade policy that is integrated into the overall trade policy of the Biden-Harris administration and centered on workers,” he said. declared.
The Biden administration had called for an overhaul of the bilateral pact goals to recognize Biden’s agenda with some of the negotiating goals set by the Trump administration likely to be abandoned.
The new US administration had said it wanted to ensure that the negotiations for a bilateral trade deal and the goals of the talks are consistent with Biden’s $ 4 trillion US economic overhaul, which focuses on a strong industrial policy with the aim of combating climate change.
Negotiations for the free trade agreement earlier this year encountered new hurdles after a key legislative tool expired to secure faster congressional approval, reducing the prospects for its conclusion.
President Biden allowed the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which delegates powers to the US head of state to expedite trade negotiations with Congress, to expire on July 1.
In the absence of a TPA, all agreements reached would be subject to amendment by US lawmakers and would have difficulty in being ratified.
Ms Tai said earlier that negotiations on a bilateral trade deal with Kenya must reflect the priorities of the new administration – which is pushing for the purchase of US-made products from the US and abroad.
A trade deal with Kenya, said to be America’s first free trade deal in sub-Saharan Africa, comes amid growing concern about China’s investments across Africa.
The Biden administration seeks to reduce China’s share in world trade.
Kenya and the United States formally launched negotiations in July last year for a bilateral trade deal that both economies hope could serve as a model for additional deals across Africa.
Kenya wants to strike a deal with Washington before the expiration of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), which allows sub-Saharan states to export thousands of products to the United States without tariffs or quotas until 2025.
Two-way merchandise trade between the United States and Kenya totaled $ 1,067,590 in 2019, up 4.9% from 2018.
Bilateral talks were halted following the US presidential elections last November.
Mr. Biden was sworn in as President of the United States on January 20, ending the tumultuous four-year presidency of his predecessor Trump.
A change of guard at the White House raised uncertainty over the free trade agreement, with Mr. Biden engaging in the reversal of many policies that had been put in place by the Trump administration.
Biden’s “Build Better” plan aims to revive the U.S. economy from the ravages of Covid-19 through massive use of government power to reshape the world’s largest economy and counter China’s rise to power.
Its policy mix includes raising corporate taxes to fund innovation and buy American products to create jobs; tax incentives and penalties to encourage American businesses to keep and create jobs in the United States; and a $ 2 trillion investment in clean energy.
He is betting on creating millions of jobs, building infrastructure, such as roads and tackling climate change – a topic Trump has given little importance to.
Biden’s plans indicate the United States will be keen to protect American companies in their quest to bolster manufacturing and find more of the global trade now in China’s hands while pushing for deals bilateral trade.