Kenyan entrepreneurs were among dozens of African merchants seeking US trading partners at a weeklong business exposition in New York.
The event at a luxury Times Square hotel was timed to coincide with an annual gathering of world leaders at United Nations headquarters. But the product exhibits were attracting few viewers on Tuesday September 25, the opening day of the Agoa Expo & Trade Fair that runs through September 30.
“We were told there would be US importers at this expo,” said Murugi Mugo, managing director of Beth International. “It’s disappointing that there are so few people here.”
Ms Mugo’s company, which exports jewellery, home decor items and clothing to markets in Europe and Asia, employs 56 Kenyans in Nairobi and Mombasa, she said.
Beth International is taking part in the expo in the hope of tapping opportunities for exports to the US under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, a preferential trade programme begun in 2000.
Ms Mugo’s complaints about sparse attendance at the expo’s opening were echoed by Purity Wanjiko Kamau, owner of a small Kenyan company specialising in handmade bracelets and necklaces.
Ms Kamau said she had paid $5,000 for exhibit space at the expo. “That’s a lot of money for us,” she said, adding, “It’s been disappointing so far.”
The Agoa Expo is organised by Bizness Group LLC, a New York-based firm that promotes US-Africa trade.
Severin Coulibaly, a Bizness Group executive, told The EastAfrican that he expects attendance to improve in the coming days. “Maybe it wasn’t so good [on Tuesday] because it was the opening day,” he said.
James Mureu, vice-chairman of the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, gave a speech on Tuesday in a ballroom of the expo’s Marriott Marquis Hotel that was attended by about 50 people. Mr Mureu said in an interview that the expo offers an opportunity to expand the range of Kenyan goods exported to the US.
About 7,000 products can enter the US duty-free through Agoa, but Kenya currently exports only about 200 products to the US, Mr Mureu said.
The advent next month of Kenya Airways’ direct flights to New York will be “a game-changer” for Agoa-related trade, he suggested. Food items and cut flowers can be shipped much more quickly to the US once that service begins, Mr Mureu said.
Agoa has had a significantly positive impact on Kenya’s economy, he added.
Some 40,000 Kenyans hold Agoa-related jobs, according to the US trade agency. Kenya exported $338 million worth of textiles and apparel to the US under the trade programme last year.