Kenya's president says talks on trade deal with U.S. delayed

By Omar Mohammed
NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya has delayed talks on a trade agreement with the United States until a pan-African trade bloc enters into force, said President Uhuru Kenyatta on Thursday, probably holding the first such pact in Washington in sub-Saharan Africa.
US President Donald Trump and Kenyatta agreed in February to launch formal talks on a bilateral trade pact that could help address concerns about China's growing investment pressures on the continent.
Kenya plans to sign a deal with Washington before the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) expires, which will enable sub-Saharan Africa to export thousands of products to the United States by 2025 without tariffs or quotas.
Kenyatta said Kenya, East Africa's richest economy, had delayed talks with Washington until the free trade agreement for Africa, originally scheduled for July 1, came into effect, but has now been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.
"When we met with the United States ... we made it clear that the negotiations must be conducted on the basis of and without undermining the free trade agreement with Africa," said Kenyatta.
"This works not only for Kenya and Africa, but I believe it will also work for the United States because it will allow broader market access," he added during a webinar hosted by the Atlantic Council.
It was not immediately clear how long the delay in the conversation would take.
Two-way trade between the U.S. and Kenya was $ 1.1 billion in 2019, up 4.9% from 2018.
The African Continental Free Trade Area would become the largest since the World Trade Organization was founded in 1994, bringing 1.3 billion people together in an economic bloc of $ 3.4 trillion.
US trade representative Robert Lighthizer said on Wednesday that he hoped for a strong free trade agreement with Kenya that could eventually be repeated with other African countries. Negotiations will start soon, he said.
(Reporting by Omar Mohammed in Nairobi with additional reporting by Andrea Shalal in Washington; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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