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Agoa, healthcare and environment dominate latest US-Africa forums

Fashion and Beauty
 U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin meet with Angolan President Joao Lourenco during the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit 2022 in Washington, U.S., December 13, 2022. [AP Photo]

Kenyan businesses are focusing on increased trade between Kenya and the US, following talks and agreements during the just concluded Africa-US Summit in Washington, DC.

Of particular interest is the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) which provides free US market access to hundreds of products from Kenya. Last year, more than 75 per cent of Kenya's exports to the US entered duty-free under Agoa, with mainly tea, coffee, macadamia nuts and apparel taking the lead in volumes of trade.

To date, Kenya has hardly scratched the surface considering Agoa allows 6,500 products into the US, hence the reason for heightened activities on the sidelines of the summit by Kenyan businesses to take advantage of this facility that is coming to an end in 2025.

"We intend to actualise the recommendations made during the visit on improved trade," says Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KNCCI) boss Richard Ngatia, who led the business delegation that accompanied President William Ruto to the summit hosted by US President Joe Biden.

"We shall facilitate business matchmaking through trade missions, exhibitions and business forums between Kenyan businesses and their US counterparts."

Ngatia says the chamber will work closely with the State to build the capacity of Kenyan exporters on quality and standards to conform to Agoa requirements, up exports volumes and help balance trade between the two countries.

Increased access to the US markets, especially for Kenya's apparel and agricultural products, could up job opportunities for Kenyans.

According to the 2021 Trade Law Centre (Tralac), Kenya currently ranks first among world exporters of roses to the European Union with a market share of 38 per cent but has had very low penetration of the US market at just one per cent.

"As a chamber, we will continue to sensitise local businesses especially small, micro enterprises on Agoa and enable them to mainstream into export value chains," says Ngatia.

The apparel market in the US is the largest in the world with a market value of $343 billion (Sh42.1 trillion) with Kenya's total exports to the US in 2020 totalling $569 million (Sh70 billion), representing a negative balance of trade of $230 million (Sh28.2 billion).

During the meetings in Washington, Kenyan businesses were urged to disclose all climate related threats through environmental, social and governance (ESG) reporting.

Corporate America

Billions of dollars worth of green funds were made available from Corporate America as well as developmental organisations towards large-scale projects aimed at both mitigative and adaptive measures towards climate change.

Last week, Ngatia landed a top appointment as a member of the World Chamber Federation (WCF) Council for his leadership of the KNCCI, especially during the Covid where the chamber in partnership with commercial banks and other financial institutions provided soft loans and grants to mitigate the adverse effects on businesses.

"I look forward to working together in connecting chambers, supporting MSMEs in collaboration with ICC, and contributing to our strategy to develop and reinforce our chamber community," read the appointment letter from WFC President Nicolas Uribe Rueda dated December 21, 2022.

Ngatia has been chairman of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region Private Sector Forum.

He was also a board member at the East Africa Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture and in the past served as the chairman of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development Business Council.

The business delegation also accompanied President Ruto during a meeting with the Diaspora living and working in the US.

Kenyan businessmen and counterparts from other African nations held talks with Enoh Ebong of the US Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) on healthcare infrastructure projects.

The agency disclosed plans based on feasibility studies to establish green energy for hospitals with solarisation technologies from the US and USTDA committing to build capacities of African healthcare regulatory bodies.

Funds have already been committed to Kenya Pharmacy and Poisons Board from the first quarter of 2023.

"We met representatives of US Medical Chamber of Commerce and Alliance of America Technologies that would link Africa companies with American technologies," says Ngatia, adding that the delegation also met New York Stock Exchange investors interested in investing in healthcare.

According to Ebong, USTDA funded a feasibility study to help Mobihealthcare Ltd, a women-led Nigerian company, expand its telehealth services to underserved communities in Kenya, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Egypt. "The study will help enhance healthcare access for 100,000 individuals per year," he announced during the meeting.

ESG reporting improves transparency in business and encourages investors to bring in foreign direct investments.

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