The US Trade Representative’s office announced Thursday that the US and Kenya will begin to forge closer ties under an agreement that would improve farm trade by addressing non-tariff barriers.
The Biden administration continues to defy criticism that it does not negotiate traditional tariff-reducing market access deals in pacts like the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework. At least initially, that will be the case for the strategic trade and investment partnership between the United States and Kenya, which USTR Katherine Tai and Kenya’s Industry, Trade and Enterprise Development Minister Betty Maina announced on Thursday.
The US and Kenya “will consider measures to facilitate agricultural trade and improve transparency and understanding of the use of scientific and risk-based sanitary and phytosanitary measures,” the USTR’s office said in a statement.
While the US Rice Federation says it is pleased with the announcement, US exporters desperately need Kenya and other African countries to lower tariffs. US rice exports face an ad valorem tariff of 25% in Kenya – around US$200 per tonne.
“USA Rice is pleased that USTR is promoting ties with Kenya, but market access needs to be on the table to really make a difference for us. U.S. rice exporters must receive significantly reduced tariffs if we ever hope to be competitive in the marketplace,” said Peter Bachmann, USA Rice’s vice president of international trade policy Agri Pulse.
One of the biggest disagreements between the US and Kenya on agricultural policy is biotechnology, and senior government officials told reporters Thursday the countries will address the issue under the partnership agreement.
Kenya is slowly approving the cultivation of genetically modified seeds but still maintains a 2012 ban on imports of food and feed made with the technology.
“Kenya’s GM ban has blocked both US government food aid and US agricultural exports derived from agricultural biotechnology,” the USTR said in its 2022 Foreign Trade Barriers Report.
When the Trump administration announced in 2020 that it wanted to negotiate a free trade agreement with Kenya, there were high hopes that Kenya would be able to lift its import ban, which could send a signal to other African countries.
Now a senior government official says the US will adopt the same “barrier to trade,” stressing that “we hope to have many detailed discussions about science-based standards in the future.”
Yet lawmakers and farm groups are still urging the Biden administration to change course and begin negotiating traditional market access deals into free trade deals.
Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., and 20 other lawmakers today sent a letter to Doug McKalip, President Joe Biden’s nominee for the next chief agricultural negotiator at the USTR, asking him to champion new free trade deals.
“Our farmers and ranchers face uncertain times due to the immense pressure of an exponential increase in input costs,” the newspaper wrote. “Better access to international markets for products we export would help ease some of that pressure.”
A senior government official told reporters that while no market access components are being considered for the Kenya deal, that could change.
“We have not ruled out broader negotiations,” the official said.
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