NAIROBI, Kenya: July 18 (Xinhua) — Kenya and the U.S. have vowed to increase commercial ties between the two nations, a Kenya government official said on Wednesday.

Minister of Trade Moses Wetangula told journalists in Nairobi that Kenya desires to upscale engagement with Washington especially in terms of trade and investment.

“Kenya wants to double trade between the 2 countries within the next 6 years by fully exploiting the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) trade agreement,” Wetangula said during a joint media briefing with visiting U.S. delegation to Kenya led by Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economics Michael Froman.

“It is not difficult to boost trade because the foundation is already there and all that is required is enablers, polices and access to each other,” the minister said.

Data from the U.S. embassy in Kenya indicates that the U.S. exports to Kenya in 2011 topped 464 million dollars, up from 365 million dollars in 2010, representing a 27 percent increase while Kenya’s exports to the U.S. in 2011 grew by 23 percent compared to the previous year to reach 382 million dollars.

Wetangula said that that the east African region is currently in the midst of making huge discoveries of oil and gas, a development that is expected to boost economies of the countries in the region.

“As a country, we are encouraging the U.S. to invest in the mineral and hydro carbon sector in order to get a piece of the pie, ” the minister added.

He noted that within 15 years, the mineral sector will be one of the key drivers of the economy and this frontier area is open for investors. Wetangula added that despite long historical ties which date to the 1960s, U.S. investments in Kenya are not growing.

“In fact in the past 2 decades, American investments in Kenya have either stagnated or declined due a number of divesture by some companies,” he said.

Wetangula said that Kenya has a vibrant agricultural and horticultural export sector but unfortunately most of Kenya’s products reach the U.S. through third countries.

“Kenya is also pushing for an EAC-U.S. trade agreement so that the 5 member states sign one trade agreement with the U.S. instead of 5 separate ones,” he said.

The trade minister noted that the president has already established a committee led by the permanent secretary of trade that is charged with the elimination of weight bridges and roadblocks in the country following routine complaints by landlocked countries that depend on Kenya’s port of Mombasa.

Wetangula said that the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) has organized a meeting slated for September in Kampala in order to fast track the establishment of a free trade area among itself and Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and East African Community (EAC).

Speaking at the briefing, Froman said that Kenya is a priority for the U.S. especially given that it is the gateway into the East African Community.

“There is increasing interest among American investors about Kenya especially through foreign direct investment and Public Private Partnership,” he said.

Froman, who is also the Assistant to the U.S. President, said that his country is looking for ways to achieve specific concrete goals with near term results including in investment treaty and trade facilitation.

“There are many ways of improving ties but they must be engineering by the business sector especially through forums in order to increase the interface between both countries,” he said.

“We are planning to bring business to understand trade regulations so that Kenyan exporters have the capacity to access the US market,” he noted.

He added that over 6000 Kenyan products are exempted from duty in America but even tariffs are low compared to those imposed by other developed countries.

Froman noted that the U.S. will assist the EAC’s regional integration process which aims to create a single large market of over 130 million people.

“At the leadership level of member states, there seems to be commitment but it has not trickled down through the bureaucratic officials especially those at border posts,” he said.

The Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Africa Florizelle Liser said that Kenya is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the AGOA preferential trade terms in sub Saharan Africa.

“In 2011, Kenya exported apparel goods worth 261 million dollars making it the second largest textile exporter to the US in Sub Sahara after Lesotho,” she said.

Liser added that if the EAC become a single market it will attract a lot of more interest from U.S. investors. She lamented that tariffs that should have been eliminated by the single customs union are still being imposed.

The nine senior U.S. officials are visiting Kenya to meet local and American investors as Washington seeks to boost its bilateral relations with Nairobi. The senior Obama administration officials led by Froman are visiting sites crucial to the growing U.S./Kenyan economic relationship.

The team is also consulting with Kenyan officials and American investors, as well as other key figures in Kenya’s political and economic establishment.

“The strategy, announced by the President in June, is meant to build on the accomplishments of the past 3 years and to encourage the enormous potential for economic growth throughout the continent,” the embassy said on Monday. (Xinhua)

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