Congress, USTR Kirk Celebrate First Decade of African Trade Law

A landmark piece of trade legislation celebrated its 10th birthday on Capitol Hill May 12 with a party, a cake and a large group of proud supporters.

U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Ron Kirk presided at a ceremony heralding the 10th anniversary of the enactment of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) trade preference program. In attendance were several past and present members of Congress who played key roles in the drafting, passage and implementation of AGOA, including Sander Levin, current chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Bill Thomas, a former chair of the committee. Other celebrants were members of the African diplomatic corps and representatives of private-sector companies and civil society.

“By opening the American market to almost all goods from beneficiary sub-Saharan African countries, AGOA has helped Africans use trade to fight poverty and grow their economies — and AGOA is also good for U.S. business,” said Kirk. “By promoting an improved business environment in many African countries, AGOA has opened up new opportunities for U.S. exports.”

The USTR credited AGOA with “a substantial increase in two-way U.S.-Africa trade since 2000, with African countries now exporting to the United States a more diverse range of value-added products,” and said the trade pact powerfully demonstrates the link between trade and economic development.

HISTORY OF AGOA

Congress passed the AGOA legislation in early 2000 with strong bipartisan support; President Clinton signed the bill into law May 18, 2000. Since then, the Executive Branch, regardless of which political party is holding the White House, has worked closely with African partners and other interested parties to help them receive the maximum benefits from the program.

AGOA built on the existing Generalized System of Preferences program to allow eligible sub-Saharan African countries to export almost any product to the United States duty free, and especially focuses on value-added and nontraditional products.

Since AGOA’s enactment, U.S. non-oil imports from sub-Saharan Africa have more than doubled, reaching $3.4 billion in 2009. Among the sectors that have experienced sizable increases under AGOA are apparel, footwear, vehicles, fruits and nuts, prepared vegetables, leather products, cut flowers, prepared seafood and essential oils.

These are some of the countries that have experienced significant trade increases under AGOA:

• South Africa, which exports the widest range of AGOA products, including vehicles, citrus, wine and footwear.

• Lesotho, which has become the leading sub-Saharan African exporter of apparel to the United States.

• Kenya, which exports fresh-cut roses, sport fishing supplies, nuts, plastic products, jewelry, essential oils and apparel.

• Ghana, whose value-added exports include chocolates, jewelry, baskets and preserved pineapple.

AGOA requires the president to determine annually whether sub-Saharan African countries are eligible for benefits under the trade law based on their progress in meeting certain criteria set out in the act, including implementing economic reforms, establishing the rule of law, reducing poverty and strengthening labor and human rights.

Currently, 38 sub-Saharan African countries are eligible for AGOA: Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Chad, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Gabon, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda and Zambia.

The United States has provided assistance in building trade capacity to African governments and firms to help them utilize AGOA trade preferences. Much of this assistance is rendered by experts at four regional competitiveness hubs that work with African governments and businesses to identify and develop AGOA trade opportunities. The United States has provided more than $1 billion for activities aimed at building trade capacity in sub-Saharan Africa in 2008, including trade-related assistance through Millennium Challenge Corporation compacts with African countries.

The law also established an annual high-level dialogue between officials of the United States and AGOA beneficiary countries: the AGOA Forum. The next AGOA Forum, to be held in Washington on August 2 and 3, will bring together Cabinet-level officials from the United States and AGOA-beneficiary countries with representatives of African and American private-sector firms and nongovernmental organizations to discuss issues related to U.S.-African trade and economic cooperation.

Source: allafrica.com

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