President Ruto’s visit to the US and its implications for STIP.

  • 1 Mar 2024
  • 2 Mins Read
  • 〜 by Anne Ndungu

Before the United States Strategic Trade and Investment Partnership (STIP), there was the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a multilateral agreement with African countries enacted in 2000. Initially meant to last 10 years, the agreement is headed into its third renewal next year. However, AGOA’s renewal was not always a very clear matter, and Kenya, one of its most active users and second largest beneficiary of the trade agreement, particularly its textile and apparel sector, decided to go for a bilateral one. 

The third round of STIP negotiations took place in late January this year. The U.S. was represented by a delegation led by Assistant United States Trade Representative Constance Hamilton and focussed on three areas: Agriculture, Good regulatory practices, and Workers’ rights and protections. 

President William Ruto is set for a State visit to the United States on May 23rd this year to “discuss ways to bolster Kenya’s cooperation in areas including people-to-people ties, trade and investment, technological innovation, climate and clean energy, health, and security,” according to the official press release. 

His visit comes six months before the U.S. elections. The political outcome could change and impact the negotiations as the incumbent battles it out with former President Donald Trump, under whose presidency the bilateral trade negotiations began. Then, it was envisaged as the largest free trade deal between the U.S. and an African country. Kenya will be the second African nation to sign a bilateral trade agreement with the U.S. 

United States President Joe Biden’s foreign policy altered the original bilateral agreement, which would have only been a trade agreement (Kenya Free Trade Agreement) and changed it to STIP.  The current U.S. government, rather than focusing on traditional market access issues such as preferential tariff treatment, rules of origin, and the like, chose to focus on non-tariff parameters such as MSMEs, inclusive growth, workers’ rights, corruption, etc.

President Ruto’s strategy for securing this agreement must navigate these shifting dynamics. With the possibility of key officials changing with the U.S. elections, a long-term approach is imperative. Establishing connections with officials likely to remain in office, regardless of the political changes, requires diplomatic acumen. The government must be keen to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves in the form of side events organised by civil society, think tanks and other business and advocacy groups during the visit. 

The date of the next round of negotiations remains uncertain, and also uncertain is whether Congress needs to approve the agreement, but Kenya’s approach must be calibrated to the evolving landscape, ensuring adaptability and foresight in securing its economic interests on the global stage.