The government has hired a newly influential US lobbying firm partly in order to help Kenya block a threat to the sizable trade benefits it receives through the Agoa programme, Kenya's embassy in Washington said on Friday.
More than 66,000 jobs in Kenya are in "imminent danger and threat of being lost" due to a move by a US trade association to have all the East African Community member-states barred from continued participation in the African Growth and Opportunity Act, the embassy warned.
Kenya last year exported Sh35.2 billion worth of textiles and apparel to the US duty-free under Agoa's preferential trade terms, up from Sh22.3 billion in 2012, official data show.
Kenya benefits from Agoa far more than do the three other major EAC countries: Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.
The Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles association (Smart), which represents US-based used-clothing companies, urged a US government trade agency in May to review the EAC states' eligibility for Agoa.
Smart took that action in response to the EAC's decision in February to phase out imports of second-hand clothing by 2019.
"The ban directly contradicts requirements that Agoa beneficiaries work towards eliminating "barriers to United States trade and investment and promote 'economic policies to reduce poverty," Smart director Jackie King has said. The used-clothing industry generates thousands of jobs in East Africa that will be lost if the ban takes effect, Smart warned. The Sonoran Policy Group (SPG), the Washington lobbying firm recently retained by Kenya, "will be crucial" to efforts to prevent the country's expulsion from Agoa, the embassy said on Friday.
The embassy also clarified that the Kenyan government's contract with SPG runs for three months, not for a full year as is stated in a lobbying-disclosure document on file with the US Justice Department.
Kenya has agreed to pay SPG $300,000 for its services from late May to late August, the embassy said.
The posted filing signed by SPG executive chairman Robert Stryk and by David Gacheru, deputy head of mission at the embassy in Washington, indicates that Kenya will pay the firm $1.2 million, in installments of $100,000 per month, for a full year of representation.
The contract with SPG "can be renewed if their performance is satisfactory," the embassy noted on Friday.
At least three of SPG's top officials previously worked in Donald Trump's presidential campaign or in his administration.
The contract with the firm states that in addition to lobbying on Agoa-related issues, SPG will help Kenya "achieve its objectives" in regard to tourism.
Over 100,000 Americans visited Kenya last year, making the US the country's number-one source of tourists.
"The embassy intends to see that these figures increase in the next few years," Nairobi's diplomats in Washington declared on Friday. "SPG efforts will be crucial in this."