US, Kenya to start trade talks seen as template for Africa

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THE US and Kenya will announce negotiations on a bilateral free-trade agreement next week. If completed, it could be the first such deal between the world’s biggest economy and a sub-Saharan African nation, and a model for the region.

Kyle McCarter, the U.S. ambassador to Kenya, praised the talks as a ‘ win-win’ for the two countries. By contrast, South Africa, the continent’s most-industrialised economy, is trying to avoid being thrown out of the US’s Generalised System of Preferences, its largest such programme for the world’s poorest nations. The impediment is South Africa’s plan to change its copyright laws.

A report by Bloomberg says the disagreement is another sign that policy paralysis is causing South Africa to slip down the rankings when world powers look for African partners.

South Africa at one time would have been the obvious choice for the US

Its comparatively sophisticated economy means the country exports everything from cars to macadamia nuts to the world’s biggest market. South Africa’s large middle class, by African standards, provides an outlet for US goods. Annual trade with the US of $18.9bn dwarfs that of Kenya, at just $1.2bn.

South Africa may be putting all that at risk in a squabble over books, films, music and video games. It’s not the first time.

In 2015, South Africa was at loggerheads with the US over plans to limit foreign ownership of security companies. More recently, there was a dust-up over chicken imports.

South Africa may have to decide whether to protect local industries or embrace trade relations with one of its most important partners.

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