Time to Revitalize the Pursuit of US-Kenya Free Trade Agreement

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In a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, seven Republican senators have underscored the importance of resuming the negotiation of a bilateral U.S.-Kenya trade agreement.

The Aug. 20 letter highlighted that a free trade pact with Kenya would be “the appropriate next step in recognizing and strengthening relations, economic opportunities, and a security partnership between the United States and Kenya.”

Kenya began negotiations on a trade deal with the U.S. during the Trump administration. The Biden administration has stalled the negotiations without specifying whether or how Washington would resume the talks.

The letter to Tai made the case that the Biden administration has a “historic opportunity” to work toward a trade agreement with Kenya, which would be the first such pact between the U.S. and a sub-Saharan African country.

The letter further noted that “as the U.S. increasingly partners with Kenya to combat al-Shabab and other terrorist groups, it is more important than ever to recognize Kenya as an important ally in the Horn of Africa.”

Indeed, a trade agreement with Kenya is clearly in America’s interest. Regrettably, however, the Biden administration has shown little appetite for restarting stalled trade negotiations with Nairobi.

During a House Ways and Means Committee hearing in May, Tai did state the necessity of making sure that what we do with Kenya will “reinforce all of the things that Kenya is doing in Africa, not take away from that.”

Two months later, when she announced and highlighted a “U.S.-Africa trade ministerial” that will be held later this year, Tai said the ministerial would be focused on how to “build” on the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

Currently, the cornerstone of America’s economic engagement with Africa is the 21-year-old African Growth and Opportunity Act. A preferential trade program, it offers eligible sub-Saharan African countries duty-free access to the U.S. market for more than 1,800 goods until 2025.

More can and should be done to build on the African Growth and Opportunity Act and upgrade it to strengthen and broaden commercial ties with Africa.

A renewed U.S. effort to promote economic freedom across Africa should also be a central part of America’s long-term mission to assist African countries. Greater economic freedom, reinforced by trade freedom, is the long-term solution to the continent’s weak health security capacities and many more of its economic and social challenges.

It’s notable that in commemorating the launch of the Organization of African Unity, Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Global Human Rights, in June stressed that, moving forward, U.S. policy toward Africa should be more about trade and investment, less about aid.

She further underlined that “we will need to be aligned—like a lot of other countries around the world that view the continent of Africa as a partner—as an investment partner, a business partner, and not view the continent of Africa as a place where we need to deliver charity.”

While the U.S. cannot provide the leaders of foreign nations the political will needed to transform their economies according to free market principles, it can support the cause of economic freedom through consistent policy dialogues with its African partners and by providing technical help for reform-minded countries.

A readily available and practical next step toward that strategic objective would be for the Biden administration to resume negotiations aimed at hammering out a free trade agreement with Kenya as noted by the senators’ letter.

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