Katherine Chi Tai made history in March 2021 when she became the first Asian American to hold the position of United States (US) Trade Representative. This week, Tai has been in Kenya, but it isn’t her trade deal discussions with President William Ruto that have been grabbing the headlines.
Instead, it’s her refusal to engage Kenya’s Trade and Investments Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria that has Kenyans talking. Kuria was conspicuously absent as Tai met leaders including President William Ruto.
Tai reportedly refused to meet Kuria over his ‘foul mouth’ that has seen him on the receiving end of public backlash on numerous occasions. According to Nation, Tai labelled the cabinet secretary an ‘extremist’ and expressed reservations on his conduct.
Tai, has been in the country co-leading a meeting of the US-East Africa Community Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (Tifa) council. Kuria was lined up to attend the Tifa council meeting alongside East Africa Community and Arid and Semi-Arid Lands Cabinet Secretary Rebbeca Miano, but was reportedly locked out.
Kuria’s infamous acerbic tongue has in recent months seen him take on, among others, Nation Media Group (NMG), former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and his Azimio opposition coalition. He also called for the military action against Sudan over the ongoing conflict leading Kenya’s foreign ministry to distance the country from his statements.
Born in 1974, Tai is the daughter of Waishengren immigrants from Taiwan. She is a member of the Democratic Party and previously served as chief trade counsel for the United States House Committee on Ways and Means.
Tai graduated from Yale University (Pierson College) in 1996 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history, went on to study at Harvard Law School,where she earned a Juris Doctor in 2001.
She would then work for law firms including Powell Goldstein, Sidley Austin, Baker McKenzie, and Miller & Chevalier, and also clerked for U.S. District Courts in Washington, D.C., and Maryland.
Between 2007 and 2014, she served in the Trade Representative’s Office of General Counsel, becoming chief counsel for China Trade enforcement. In 2014, she became trade counsel for the House Ways and Means Committee. She was named chief trade counsel in 2017. In 2020, President Joe Biden nominated her to serve as US Trade Representative.