Kenya is a recognized trade hub in the continent, and has been viewed as an important strategic partner of the United States. This is evident from the nomination and recent approval by the US Senate of former CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise and eBay, Margaret (Meg) Cushing Whitman as US Ambassador to Kenya. Amb. Whitman is one of President Biden’s campaign top funders and considered to be among the richest Americans whose worth is estimated to be around 4.8 billion USD. Amb. Whitman’s nomination to Kenya last year attracted a lot of attention around the world. Her posting to Kenya as a plenipotentiary reveals how the US considers Kenya a strategic partner, as US ranks its diplomatic postings according to the diplomats deployed.
Amb. Whitman is in charge of implementing President Biden’s strategy in the fight against corruption which he declared as a threat to national security. Her voice and support will also matter in Kenya’s transition to the next government that will win in the upcoming elections. Amb. Whitman’s appointment also has the decision making power in the implementation of US-Kenya trade agreements which are backed by the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) passed by US Congress in 2000.
Kenya has benefitted from various aid programmes from the US. In 2020, during the reign of Donald Trump, the two countries concluded a trade agreement focused on preferential market access for Kenyan products and to deepen the trade and investment ties between the two countries among others, which were majorly focused on macro business investments.
This week, the United States Trade Representative, Katherine Tai, and Kenya’s Ministry of Industrialization, Trade and Enterprise Development Cabinet Secretary, Betty Maina, launched the United States-Kenya Strategic Trade and Investment Partnership (STIP). The STIP aims to focus on the following areas: increasing investment; promoting sustainable and inclusive economic growth; benefiting workers, consumers, and businesses (including micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises); and supporting African regional economic integration. The STIP further seeks to enhance high standard commitments from the two countries in combating issues in:
- Digital trade;
- Environment and climate change;
- Good regulatory practices;
- Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs);
- Trade facilitation and customs procedures;
- Standards collaboration;
- Promoting workers’ rights and protections; and
- Supporting participation of women, youth, and others in trade.
The STIP is unique from the previous trade agreement as it has identified the issue of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) as requiring commitment from both countries. Amb. Whitman’s involvement will also see Kenya as a positive influence to the East African Community and implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement. This notwithstanding, it will be keen to monitor the US influence and in particular Amb. Whitman’s, a business executive, support of Kenya’s engagement with the Bretton Woods institutions.
In addition, Amb. Whitman’s role will not only be focused on strengthening US-Kenya strategic partnership, but to also influence the expansion of American companies’ investments in the continent which have over the years been taken over by Chinese companies. During the launch of the STIP, both countries committed to ensuring that in the next three months, a detailed roadmap will be developed for addressing the commitments in the focus areas mentioned above. It will be keen to follow on the developed roadmap.