By HENRY OWINO (Senior Correspondent)

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) has lobbied the US government during the COVID-19 pandemic to use a US-Kenya trade deal to expand the plastics industry’s footprint across Africa.

The ACC represents a diverse set of companies engaged in the business of chemistry. An innovative, $553 billion enterprise, which claims to work to solve some of the biggest challenges facing nations and the world.

According to the documents obtained by Unearthed, Greenpeace’s Investigative Journalism Platform through the Freedom of Information Act, separately show that the same lobby group, which counts Shell, Exxon, and Total among its members, also lobbied against changes to the international Basel Convention, which put new limits on plastic waste entering low and middle income countries.

Oil companies, including Shell, Exxon, and Total alongside consumer goods companies like PepsiCo and Procter & Gamble, are members of the industry’s Alliance to End Plastic Waste, which has committed to spend $1 billion toward waste management efforts to prevent plastic pollution in places like Africa and Asia.

Despite these public commitments, the ACC, which represents some of these companies, argued in the documents that such infrastructure will require continued plastic exports because a circular economy requires ample feedstock.

The ACC told Unearthed that they were concerned about how the restrictions could impede exports from low and middle income countries to those with more infrastructure capacity.

ACC sees significant, long-term value in negotiating a trade agreement with Kenya, a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and a leading country in sub-Saharan Africa on trade and investment issues.  This is because Kenya borders five countries thus Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda and is a founding member of the East African Community (EAC).

Kenya and 27 other countries in Africa are party to the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which entered into force on 30 May 2019.

Consequently, a high-standard, comprehensive, market-opening trade agreement between the United States and Kenya will be an important model for EAC members and the CFTA parties to consider as they negotiate new provisions and add new parties.

With this foothold, the United States can play an influential role in shaping trade policy across Africa, demonstrating that rules-based trade can spur economic growth and development. The United States can also use this agreement to build a platform for US Chemical manufacturers to expand exports to and enter new growth markets.

“Africa is at the forefront of the war on plastics, with 34 out of 54 countries having adopted some regulation to phase out single-use plastic,” said Fredrick Njehu, Greenpeace Africa Senior Political Advisor.

“The Kenyan government should not backslide on the progress made in its plastic-free ambitions by folding to pressure from fossil fuel giants, because it stands to derail the progress made across the entire continent.” Njehu emphasizes.

In a separate letter to the Chairman of the US International Trade Commission, the ACC states that the trade agreement will be an “important model” for other African States. The letter reads, “With this foothold, the United States can play an influential role in shaping trade policy across Africa,” and that it will enable the US to “build a platform for US Chemical manufacturers to expand exports to enter new growth markets throughout sub-Saharan Africa.”

“It is shameful but not surprising that struggling fossil fuel giants are lobbying for an expansion of their polluting plastic footprint into the African continent to keep their profits flowing,” said Kate Melges, Greenpeace USA Senior Plastics Campaigner.

“These companies hope to continue dumping single-use plastics on communities around the globe, despite their known impacts to the environment and public health. Making public statements about ending plastic pollution while quietly lobbying to allow Africa to be used as a plastic dumping ground is next level hypocrisy and greenwashing.” Melges adds.

The efforts by the ACC would undo progress that Kenya and other African States have made to address plastic pollution. Kenya passed one of the toughest laws on the production, sale, and use of plastic bags in 2017, and recently expanded on it to outlaw plastics in protected areas.

“Kenya has made great strides to reduce plastic pollution there is a ban on the use and manufacture of single-use plastic carrier bags and recently a ban on plastic in protected areas. This trade deal could turn Kenya into a dumpsite and diminish what the country has achieved. We are petitioning the Ministry of Trade to say no to this deal,” Njehu, Greenpeace Africa Senior Political Advisor, cautioned.

In Kenya, protected areas embrace various types of ecosystems namely; wildlife conservations, forests, wetlands, savannah, marine, among others.

Kenya is just one of the five countries where Greenpeace Africa operates since it opened its doors in East Africa in 2015 with the launch of the Food for Life Campaign in Nairobi. Greenpeace Africa is campaigning for sustainable agriculture by protecting biodiversity and encouraging ecological farming that is good for the planet and people.

Its vision is basically to create an equitable food system for the people (farmers) who actually produce the world’s food.