US-Kenya business roadshow: Driving investments in apparel, agriculture and technology

  • 25 Sep 2023
  • 4 Mins Read
  • 〜 by Waceera Kabando

The US-Kenya Business Roadshow is organised by the American government’s Prosper Africa initiative in collaboration with the US Embassy in Kenya. The event is centred around exploring business and investment opportunities within the apparel, agri-business, and technology sectors. This event spanned multiple cities: New York on April 25th, 2023; Chicago on September 13th, 2023; and San Francisco on September 15th, 2023. It provided a platform for companies looking to explore business opportunities and investments in Kenya. Prosper Africa as a presidential-level national security initiative aims at strengthening the strategic and economic partnership between the US and Africa by activating transformative two-way trade and investment flows. 

Africa is a centre of great interest to the American states seeing as venture capital flows decreased by 35% globally in the last year, however, the total funding in Africa increased by 8% and specifically in Kenya this increased by 33%. At the core of the US economic policy and commercial engagement with Africa is the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) which was enacted in 2000. This Act has provided eligible sub-Saharan African countries with duty-free access to the US market for over 1,800 products, in addition to the more than 5,000 products that are eligible for duty-free access under the Generalised System of Preferences programme.

The 36 eligible countries have established continual progress towards a market-based economy, the rule of law, political pluralism, and the right to due process. Adding onto this, the countries have eliminated barriers to US trade and investment and enacted policies to reduce poverty, combat corruption, and protect human rights. AGOA, as the preferential trade policy, however, will expire in 2025 and Kenya has been in talks with the US since 2020 with the previous regimes to sign a free trade agreement. Despite this not being pursued further by the current administrations, Kenya and the US launched the US-Kenya Strategic Trade and Investment Partnership (STIP) in July 2022.

The negotiations between Kenya and the US on STIP have seen some interesting proposals being tabled by the US in May 2023. These proposals can be summarised as follows:

  1. a)       Agriculture – first tranche

Provisions curated to open or expand existing opportunities for agricultural producers to access markets and advance food security by increasing transparency and regulatory certainty for agricultural exporters and importers while encouraging collaboration and innovation.

  1. b)     Anticorruption

This text pertains to high anticorruption standards to prevent and combat bribery amongst other forms of corruption. This has been highlighted in the context of labour law implementation and enforcement, successful recovery and return of the proceeds of corruption and principles adopted at the 2017 Global Forum on Asset Recovery amongst others.

  1. c)       Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises

The proposal here is to promote ongoing cooperation to increase MSME trade and investment opportunities subject to the availability of resources, participation in digital trade and adaption to changing market conditions and promote MSMEs owned by underserved and underrepresented groups.

  1. d)     Services Domestic Regulation

This builds on the outcomes agreed to by the World Trade Organization (WTO) members in December 2021 in the Joint Statement Initiative on Service Domestic Regulation. This is to ensure fair treatment of service suppliers when applying for permission to operate in each sector without interfering with the ability of regulators to apply domestic standards to protect important interests such as safety, health, and the environment.

Tying these proposals to the growth and development of Kenya, the roadshow focused on three major sectors. These are:

1)      Apparel sector – this took place in New York City in April. During this event, Ambassador Meg Whitman announced six new co-investments totalling to $55 million with Kenyan and American apparel companies.

2)      Agri-business – this was in Chicago where several stakeholders such as KEPSA’s Vice Chair – Ms Brenda Mbathi, Director in charge of Food Security & Climate Change – Dr Bimal Kantaria, Director of Ajira Digital and Youth Employment – Dr Ehud Gachugu were present. The primary goal was to examine prospective agricultural collaboration opportunities between Kenya and the U.S. The forum also provided an opportunity for Venture Capital and Private Equity Firms to scout for investment opportunities in Kenya. This forum saw the signing of an agreement by Equity Group and John Deere to finance intelligent tractors for Kenyan farmers that aimed at lowering input costs for agriculture.

3)      Technology – H.E. President William Ruto pitched to more than 200 investors interested in investing in Kenya’s tech industry (Silicon Savannah) while in San Francisco. With accolades from the head of state and US Ambassador to Kenya, Kenya has been crowned to have built a bustling tech sector and can position itself as the premier destination for tech sector investment and innovation in Africa.

At last December’s US-Africa Leaders’ Summit, a new presidential initiative was announced ㇐Digital Transformation with Africa. In line with this initiative, Prosper Africa launched the Africa Tech for Trade Alliance to accelerate e-commerce and digital trade and address legal, regulatory, and logistical tailbacks. Members of this alliance include global tech companies such as Cisco, Amazon, Google, Intel, Mastercard, Visa, and Paypal.

Prosper Africa Coordinator, British A. Robinson, announced a new co-investment with Semiconductor Technologies Limited (STL), a Kenya-based semiconductor manufacturing and nanotechnology company, valued at $1 million, to build 15 semiconductor tools for domestic sales and export by 2026, and expand the number of Kenyan engineers and skilled technicians.

It is essential to ensure that Kenya benefits exceptionally from these business relations by not only attracting investors into our economy but also highly protecting our interests.