“Unlocking Africa’s Potential: Upholding Duty-Free Access for African Countries in US markets to Drive Economic Growth and Foster Sustainable Development”
The U.S. Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) trade forum is set to take place in South Africa, with the extension of the U.S. program allowing sub-Saharan African countries duty-free access to U.S. markets being a key topic of discussion. The forum will bring together officials including U.S. trade representative Ambassador Katherine Tai and deputy assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Joy Basu, as well as African leaders and officials.
Recently, U.S. President Joe Biden announced his intention to remove Niger, Uganda, Central African Republic, and Gabon from the list of AGOA beneficiaries due to their failure to comply with the eligibility criteria. AGOA is U.S. legislation that grants duty-free access to sub-Saharan African countries, provided they meet certain conditions such as the rule of law and protection of human rights. The program was last extended in 2015 and is set to expire in September 2025, pending a decision by the U.S. Congress.
African countries that have benefited from AGOA are expected to push for its extension during the forum, as they have witnessed tangible benefits from the program. AGOA holds significance as it enjoys bipartisan support from both Republicans and Democrats, aiming to foster economic development in Africa. South Africa’s trade minister, Ebrahim Patel, has already expressed his country’s intention to lobby for the extension of AGOA, highlighting the substantial benefits it has brought to South African businesses exporting to the U.S.
South Africa is one of the largest beneficiaries of AGOA, with exports to the U.S. estimated at $3 billion in 2022. President Biden’s decision to remove certain countries from the program was based on concerns regarding their noncompliance with AGOA eligibility criteria. Niger and Gabon were cited for their failure to establish or make progress toward political pluralism and the rule of law, while the Central African Republic and Uganda were accused of gross violations of human rights.
Notably, earlier this year, the U.S. government suspended most financial assistance to Gabon following a military coup. Uganda also faced scrutiny after passing a controversial anti-gay law, leading to the threat of AGOA removal and potential sanctions from President Biden. Despite these developments, Uganda has historically viewed AGOA as a beneficial program, even if it hasn’t fully capitalized on its potential as a beneficiary.
South Africa’s participation in AGOA has also faced scrutiny, with U.S. lawmakers questioning its eligibility due to allegations of supplying arms to Russia amid its conflict with Ukraine. However, an inquiry appointed by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has cleared the country of these allegations. President Ramaphosa is expected to address the AGOA forum on Friday.
Overall, the AGOA trade forum presents an opportunity for African leaders and U.S. officials to discuss the potential extension of AGOA and explore ways to enhance its benefits for African nations. The outcome of these discussions will be crucial for the future of trade relations between the U.S. and sub-Saharan African countries.