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US tips Kenya for a free trade window post Agoa

Kenya is a likely beneficiary of another US export window being considered to replace the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) after seven years, experts have hinted.

Agoa, which grants the country and 40 other African states quota and duty-free access to the US market of more than 6,000 product lines expires in 2025.

“Establishing a more stable, permanent, and mutually-beneficial trade and investment framework with the United States could be transformative for Africa,” said US Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer while hinting at the new trade plan.

According to administration sources cited by US think tank Covington’s Global Policy Watch, a branch of a US law firm working on various policy issues, Kenya, Ghana, and Côte d’Ivoire could be early contenders for a trade accord with Washington.

“We are excited about the prospect of entering into a successful free trade agreement (FTA) with an African country. We believe that this will be good for the United States, the FTA partner, and ultimately Africa,” Mr Lighthizer has been quoted saying.

He is reported to have made the comments after African and US officials, private sector representatives, and members of civil society organisations met last week in Washington.

2025 onwards

The US hosted the 17th Agoa Forum where discussions also focused on options for a “post-Agoa” model from 2025 onwards, including the possibility of crafting free trade deals.

Mr Lighthizer said that he is looking to “announce exploratory talks soon,” without confirming which countries might be first on the docket for such an initiative.

He did, however, indicate that the Trump administration would look to craft a bilateral deal with a “willing partner” that could serve as a template for other accords with countries in the region, so long as the deal also supports economic integration across the Africa and in the particular regions implicated.

Currently countries eligible for Agoa benefits are subject to various requirements covering topics beyond purely economic concerns, such as ensuring rule of law, labour rights protections, and political pluralism.

The Agoa plan has been dominated by export of textile and apparel, which accounts for 65 per cent of the total exports.

Kenya ranks among the top supplier of apparel to the US, having exported $340 million worth of such goods to the US last year.

Some 40,000 Kenyans currently hold Agoa-related jobs, according to the US trade agency.

Kenya’s total exports to the US under the Agoa plan peaked at Ksh35.2 billion ($349 million) in 2015, before declining to Ksh32.7 billion ($325 million) last year according to the Economic Survey data.

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