Coronavirus scare forces U.S., Kenya to pause talks
The U.S. and Kenya have been forced to pause trade talks over concern that Kenyan negotiators were exposed to the coronavirus, three people close to the talks told POLITICO.
Negotiators in Kenya were tested on Tuesday for the virus after being exposed to it at the office where members of Nairobi’s technical teams were gathered, these people said. Test results are expected back in the coming days with the intention of having talks resume as soon as possible.
“The potential spread among the team would be more disruptive than taking this precaution,” a Kenyan source close to the talks said.
The coronavirus scare comes less than two weeks after the U.S. and Kenya began talks on a free trade agreement — a reminder of the challenges of holding formal negotiations during the pandemic.
The spread of the coronavirus is accelerating in Africa, leaving public health experts concerned about lack of tests and fragile healthcare systems in parts of the continent. Kenya has almost 15,000 confirmed cases and more than 200 deaths due to the pandemic.
In the trade talks with Kenya as well as the United Kingdom, members of the U.S. delegation are largely working from their homes. A Kenyan official said its negotiating team is developing a plan to potentially work from home when talks resume.
The Trump administration has had to provide additional support to the Kenyans on telecommunications to ensure the negotiations could be held virtually in a secure manner, a U.S. business source said.
President Donald Trump and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta in February announced plans to negotiate a trade deal, as both leaders hope to strike an agreement that could be used as a template in the region.
A Kenya deal would be the U.S.’ first trade agreement with a sub-Saharan nation.