Speaking earlier this week in an online conference hosted by the Washington International Trade Association, House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) expressed hope that U.S. trade agreements with the United Kingdom and Kenya will be concluded and sent to Congress for review this year.
Negotiations with the UK were launched in May ahead of Britain’s leaving the European Union at the end of last year. The U.S. began talks with Kenya in July as part of the Trump administration’s push for bilateral agreements with African nations.
In both cases, talks were initiated under the auspices of the Trade Promotion Authority, a time-limited authority that Congress uses to establish trade negotiating objectives and procedures. The current TPA was signed into law in 2015 and is set to expire on July 1, 2021.
Biden Administration’s Priorities
During the election campaign and since taking office, President Biden has repeatedly stressed the importance of addressing domestic concerns over international trade as part of his “Foreign Policy for the Middle Class.” While specific details about the new administration’s trade agenda have yet to be revealed, it is widely seen to be looking to conduct a course correct and pursue a broader, more multilateral approach.
In terms of how such a change in policy direction may affect talks with Kenya, it has been reported that “the nascent deal could be dead in the water, with the Biden administration opting to focus more attention on working via the African Continental Free Trade Area.”
Regarding the largely completed deal with the UK, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said last month that a timeline for trade negotiations with London had not been set, adding that the administration was fully focused on economic recovery and getting the coronavirus pandemic under control.
Trade Promotion Authority Deadlines
Under procedures established by the TPA, the president must notify Congress 90 days before signing any new trade agreement, meaning that unless TPA is renewed or extended — which is by no means certain — the pending deals with Kenya and the UK must be completed prior to April 1.
House Democrats’ Outlook
Sounding notably less cautious than the White House, Chairman Neil said a bilateral trade agreement with the UK “makes a good deal of sense,” pointing to the post-Brexit trade agreement reached by the European Union and Britain on Dec. 24, which preserved the Good Friday Agreement, a key condition pushed by Democratic lawmakers.
Similarly, Neil said that building on the “extensive discussions” with Nairobi carried out by the previous administration, a deal with Kenya could and should be pursued by Biden’s trade team.
Neal also espoused his “energetic” support for reinvigorating the stalled trade negotiations with the EU, particularly in view of the opportunities for potential collaboration on climate change issues, a key pillar of Biden’s economic strategy.