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Biden possible Kenya visit as Ruto pushes US to conclude trade deals

 President Joe Biden. [AP Photo]

The Joe Biden administration says it will focus on concluding new trade talks with Kenya even as the American President hinted at a regional visit that could include Kenya next year.

This was revealed during the just concluded three-day US-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington attended by President William Ruto. President Biden did not specify whether Kenya - which the US sees as its strategic ally in the Horn of Africa - would be part of his destination or when he would come to the region.

"We're all going to be seeing you and you're going to see a lot of us," Biden told the summit of African leaders.

"Some of you invited me to your countries. I said, be careful what you wish for, because I may show up."

The Summit saw the US vow to fast-track talks on a possible trade deal with Kenya even as the new Ruto administration, which is banking on the support of its Western allies to grow the economy and made business investment pitches to American firms. Washington considers Nairobi as central to its regional foreign policy interests, and in the recent past supported Kenya’s pivotal efforts as a regional peace broker including in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia where former President Uhuru Kenyatta is leading peace efforts.

Earlier the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Biden’s planned visit would be used to firm up commitments for trade made in the just concluded visit.

“And by the way, over the last couple of years that I’ve been on this job, I’ve had an opportunity to travel a fair bit in Africa – Kenya, Nigeria, Morocco, Algeria, Senegal, Egypt, South Africa – but as the President mentioned today, I think you’re going to see a lot of us in Africa next year, including the President,” said Blinken.

“So that’s an opportunity as well to carry forward everything that we’ve done here, to continue these conversations, to continue the implementation.  And I know when the President goes, when other Cabinet members go, we’re going to want to be able to show that what we did and said here in Washington, we’re actually carrying out.”

State House, Nairobi and the Kenyan Foreign Ministry had not confirmed to The Saturday Standard, by press time, whether Nairobi had issued a formal invitation to Washington for Biden to visit.

Should Biden confirm Kenya as part of his itinerary, it would come as a big trade and diplomatic boost for the country and the new administration of President Ruto. Biden would be the first US president to visit since Barack Obama, who has Kenyan roots, visited Kenya in July 2015. 

Details of the possible Biden visit to the region came out as his administration announced its plans to start expert engagement on the planned US trade pact from next year. US Trade Representative Katherine Tai earlier speaking at the African leaders’ summit said in a meeting with her Kenyan trade counterpart Moses Kuria the objectives of the proposed trade deal align with those of the two governments.

“Ambassador Tai, Ambassador Bianchi and CS Kuria discussed plans to begin expert engagement on the issues identified in the July 14, 2022 joint statement launching the United States-Kenya Strategic Trade and Investment Partnership,” said a statement from the USTR.

“They highlighted how the initiative aligns with the Ruto administration’s domestic objective of greater economic inclusiveness as well as its objective of advancing African continental trade integration.”

The Biden administration has not pursued any new traditional free trade negotiations focused on lowering tariffs with any trading partners. Instead, it has focused on non-tariff dialogues covering standards for regulation, technology, environment and labor with the European Union, Britain, Kenya and other partners. A proposed free trade pact between Nairobi and Washington has been beset by delays and uncertainty, casting doubt about the Biden administration’s commitment to concluding the deal.

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