Why I did not meet Trade Minister Moses Kuria, US official Tai explains

Wednesday July 19 2023
ruto tai

US Trade Representative Katherine Tai (L) poses for a photo with Kenya's President William Ruto at State House in Nairobi, Kenya on July 19, 2023. PHOTO | PCS


United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai, who is on a mission to Kenya, says she did not meet Kenyan counterpart Moses Kuria, but refused to explain why she did so, in what may reflect the Kenyan Minister’s reputational blot.

Instead, she directed media inquiries to Kuria’s appointing authority.

“I did not meet Trade Cabinet Secretary (CS) Moses Kuria. In terms of why I did not meet with him, I would have to refer you to the Kenyan government,” Tai told The EastAfrican on Wednesday.

“It’s correct that I haven’t met with him, CS Kuria on this trip. Nevertheless, I have had very robust engagements with other counterparts in the Kenyan government on the Strategic Trade and Investment Partnership (Stip) as well as on the EAC work.”

Ms Tai, who has been in the country from Monday to co-lead a meeting of the US-East Africa Community Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (Tifa) Council, is reported to have expressed her reservations with the conduct of the Trade CS, who has recently poured incendiaries on his social media pages.

Read: Kenya forced to disown minister's 'invade Sudan' comment


The visiting US Trade Representative confirmed she instead met other Kenyan officials where they discussed US Strategic Trade and Investment Partnership (Stip) as well as the US-East Africa Community Tifa council with Trade ministers from the EAC.

She held discussions with Kuria's counterparts, including the East African Community and Arid and Semi-Arid Lands CS Rebbeca Miano and Foreign Affairs CS Alfred Mutua and other government officials with Kuria missing in action.

“For the most of Tuesday, I spent in meetings with EAC ministers of Trade from the group of EAC countries and I learned a tremendous amount from that engagement,” she explained.

“I am really gratified that we had a meeting of the Trade Investment Framework Agreement (Tifa) council, and I actually think that it was an extremely constructive and positive conversation.”

“Of course, in that engagement one of the things that I have learned and more importantly is that the EAC members have their own very important dynamics in terms of engaging as a region on economic matters. This is really very important for the US to show up as a partner that wants to strengthen regional integration and our partnership with the region and other specific engagements.”

Kuria’s predicament hasn’t seen him fired yet. But it may put pressure on President William Ruto to consider reassigning him away from crucial government engagements with outside entities. Since he was named in cabinet last year, Kuria had risen to super minister levels, routinely representing the Kenyan President as a special envoy as well as leading Kenyan delegations for negotiations with the World Bank, European Union and the UK government. As the Kenyan trade boss, Kuria was also expected to be in the talks about the US trade engagements with Kenya.

Read: Kenya expects trade deal with US in a year

But Washington has also inserted clauses on corporate governance, environment, human rights and accountability, which may inform reluctance to engage with someone seen as reckless in speech.

On Wednesday morning, Tai held talks with President William Ruto at State House. Kuria was missing in action.

Sources close to the state house meeting indicated that President Ruto directed that all trade matters pertaining to US Stip with Kenya will be handled by former EAC CS Adan Mohamed who is currently the president’s economic advisor.

It is not clear how CS Kuria will manoeuvre this decision to lock him out of a trade deal that he has been chairing and driving since his appointment to the Trade docket by President Ruto.

Kenya is currently pursuing a reciprocal free trade agreement with the United States to secure its market access benefits enjoyed under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), which is an American unilateral trade preference program for Sub-Saharan African countries, based on US legislation.

Tai disclosed that she had firm instructions from President Biden to deepen relationships with Kenya and the African continent at large.

President Joe Biden’s administration has prioritised the proposed bilateral trade pact with Kenya in its agenda this year ahead of the September 2025 expiry of the duty- and quota-free deal.

Read: Biden proposes to 'sweeten' Agoa benefits

Tai disclosed that her discussion with President Ruto on Wednesday morning largely centred on the current trade discussions which are yet to be completed.

“In terms of my conversations with President Ruto it was very much focused on my area of expertise which is trade and economic relationship.  We had a robust conversation,” said Tai.

“President Ruto is very committed to this economic relationship which is tremendously gratifying, and President Biden has been clear that my instructions and directives to the entire cabinet is to deepen our partnership with Africa and certainly with Kenya.”

Washington expects to “make rapid progress” in negotiating 11 pillars of the proposed US-Stip, which will replace the two-decade-old Agoa.

The US negotiators held the first round of conceptual discussions with the Kenyan team led by Trade Principal Secretary Alfred K’Ombudo in Washington between February 6-10 in Washington.

While responding to a question over the Wednesday protests called by the opposition, Azimio leader Raila Odinga, Tai made it clear that the US supports the democratic tenets of freedom of speech and association, and that position won’t change anytime soon.

Read: Kenya protests: Day of chaos, rebellion and shutdown

She stated that she supports the joint statement issued by the US Ambassador to Kenya Meg Whitman, foreign ambassadors and high commissioners to Kenya in which they called for a peaceful dialogue and sobriety to prevail during the skirmishes between the government and the opposition.

“On the demonstrations, let me say this, the freedom of expression and the right of association are core tenets of every democracy. So, I think that is something that I want to be very clear about,” said Tai during a press conference held yesterday at Serena Hotel.

“I have seen that Ambassador Meg has joined the statement and ambassadors and high commissioners in Kenya on demonstrations. Let me just say that I, as the rest of them, are on the same page in respect to those issues.”

On Tuesday, a joint statement issued by the US Ambassador Whitman and her counterparts from Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Ukraine, Finland, Ireland, Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom called for meaningful dialogue between the opposition and President Ruto’s government.

“We are saddened by the loss of life and concerned by high levels of violence, including the use of live rounds and the destruction of property, during the recent demonstrations,” the statement read in part.

“We recognise the daily hardship faced by many Kenyans and urge all parties to table their concerns through a meaningful dialogue and resolve their differences peacefully to build the nation together, ensuring no further losses of life.”

“We stand ready to support the parties in their efforts to find constructive and peaceful solutions.”