Kenya steers US trade pact as other EAC partners differ

08Jul 2020
Marc Nkwame
The Guardian
Kenya steers US trade pact as other EAC partners differ

​​​​​​​AS Kenya and the United States begin negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement, 27 Pan-African civil society organisations are protesting the move.

Mildren Ngesa.

East African Community member states of Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania and South-Sudan, are under civil society pressure against going by Kenya’s example and rushing into the deal, as the US is up to no good, the NGOs assert.

Tanzanian civil society organisations have joined other African institutions for trade and economic development in signing a joint petition directed at regional and international trade bodies to protest the start of the negotiations.

Mildren Ngesa, who coordinated the move, says Western countries could be taking advantage of the Covid-19 driven global economic slump to capture economies of poor countries.

Ngesa represents the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) in Nairobi.

Civil societies argue that the US and Kenya Free Trade Area (FTA) envisaged pact is faulty because of its ill-timing, lack of wide consultation on the agreement especially on the Kenya side and “glaring gaps of inequality especially on the part of Kenya that will impact Africa as a whole.”

The letter is addressed to the head of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), the African Union, the East African Community (EAC) as well as to President Uhuru Kenyatta, amongst other stakeholders.

Signed by civil society organizations from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan, Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Rwanda and Burundi, the dispatch warns that after Kenya, the US may sign similar FTA agreements with other African countries, much to the disadvantage of the latter.

“We are writing to you today to strongly urge you to consider intervening to convince Kenya to abandon or, at the very least, postpone the United States-Kenya Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations to a later date,” reads part of the dispatch.

The CSOs stated that Kenya must be cognisant of its development strategy and how it fits into the overall picture.

“Reciprocal trade between Kenya and the US essentially puts two extremely unequal countries on a path of enhanced harmonization of rules and policies. This is a complete mismatch. For example, California alone is the fifth largest economy in the world. Kenya on the other hand is currently ranked 98th on the US trading partners list with exports of US$ 365 million and imports worth US$ 644 million.”

They are of the view that the FTA agreement “has the danger of crippling sectors such as agriculture and manufacturing and disintegration of the Kenyan economy.”

“In agriculture, for example, the US seeks to secure comprehensive market access for US agricultural goods, promote greater regulatory compatibility with US rules and establish specific commitments for trade in products developed through agricultural biotechnology.”

In their view, the likely outcome is that the agreement will likely negatively impact food security, as the ability of local farmers to produce will be limited by stiff competition from cheaper products from US large scale producers.

“Further, it may limit the ability of the Kenyan government to regulate risky pesticides or agricultural technologies or even shelter local production from volatile prices or supplies,” the CSOs maintained.