US firms to jet into Kenya in hunt for GMO trade deals

US Grains Council promotes US genetically-engineered crops including maize, barley and wheat. [iStockphoto]

Representatives from 32 US agribusiness firms are set to jet into Kenya on Sunday as part of an American government delegation scouting for trade opportunities.

The US food firms are looking for new and expanded markets in Kenya for their crops. Kenya currently faces food insecurity and also wants to seal a trade deal with Americas.

Nairobi has been pressured by Washington to allow access to its genetically modified (GM) food and crop products and this month gave approval to GM imports, providing a huge market opportunity for American companies.

Kenya lifted a decades-old ban on GM crops in response to the worst drought to affect the East African region in 40 years, with authorities hoping it will improve crop yields and food security.

"I am excited to lead this delegation to foster stronger ties and build economic partnerships between the United States, Kenya and Tanzania as both of these countries present a growing opportunity for US agricultural exports," said US Deputy Agriculture Secretary Jewel Bronaugh in a statement ahead of the visit.

"This trade mission will provide firsthand knowledge of market conditions and opportunities in East Africa and expand awareness about US agricultural and food products in the region."

During the week-long trade mission, US participants will meet with potential Kenyan importers, processors and distributors to establish trade relationships and expand opportunities for US agricultural exports.

"In addition, US federal and state officials will engage with government counterparts on trade-related policies that will advance US interests and strengthen bilateral relations in the region," said the United States Department of Agriculture.

Among those expected on the trip are officials from the agriculture departments of US food baskets in Kansas, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Oregon and Nebraska.

The powerful Washington-based US Grains Council which promotes US genetically-engineered crops including maize, barley and wheat in markets outside of the US is also expected.

The lobby recently hailed President William Ruto's decision to lift the ban on GM crops.

"This is an encouraging development," said Kurt Shultz, its senior director of global strategies following the end of the ban.

"The Kenyan government is responding to the reality that its farmers and livestock industry need new tools to increase their agricultural productivity.

"Lifting this ban will enhance domestic production in Kenya and allow Kenya to participate in the global corn trade market where 90 per cent of the corn and soybeans are GM, making it easier for imports to backfill their needs in times of crop shortfalls, such as increasingly recurring droughts."

The US government had prior to the recent lifting of the ban slammed Kenya for its reluctance to approve imported genetically modified foods and crops saying the measure is restricting its exports.

The US Trade Representative's office (USTR) had said in its annual report that approval by Nairobi could boost agricultural purchases by Kenya from the US, which is the world's biggest producer of GM crops.

Kenya had been reluctant to approve the import or planting of genetically modified food crops since November 2012, amid an ongoing debate about the safety of GMOs, which are touted to have several advantages such as higher yields and resistance to drought and pests.

"Kenya's GMOs ban has blocked both US government food aid and agricultural exports derived from agricultural biotechnology," the USTR said in its annual trade barriers list published in late March.

"The restriction affects US exports of processed and unprocessed foods and feed ingredients, such as soy, corn, and distiller dried grains with solubles."

The visit of the US firms comes at a time the Joe Biden administration has signalled the resumption of stalled talks for a free trade agreement between Nairobi and Washington, amid growing unease in Kenya about the delay to conclude the deal.

Kenya seeks to seal the deal before the expiry of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, which allows Sub-Saharan African countries to export thousands of products to the United States without tariffs or quotas until 2025.

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