African countries will seek to expand duty-free access to U.S. markets

MOGOMOTSI MAGOME, Associated Press

22 minutes ago

JOHANNESBURG (AP) An extension of a U.S. program that allows sub-Saharan African countries duty-free access to U.S. markets is expected to be high on the agenda of the U.S. Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) trade forum that begins in South Africa on Thursday .

Officials, including U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Katherine Tai and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Joy Basu, will meet with African leaders and officials in Johannesburg over the next three days to discuss, among other things, a possible extension of AGOA and ways to improve its benefits. for African nations.

The forum comes days after US President Joe Biden announced his intention to remove Niger, Uganda, the Central African Republic and Gabon from the list of beneficiaries because they did not meet the eligibility criteria.

AGOA is US legislation that allows sub-Saharan African countries duty-free access to the US market provided they meet certain conditions, including respecting the rule of law and protecting human rights.

It was last extended in 2015 for a period of 10 years and will expire in September 2025, and the decision on its possible extension will depend on the US Congress.

We absolutely expect African countries benefiting from AGOA to insist on extending it because they have seen real benefits, even though some have benefited more than others, said Professor John Stremlau, an international relations expert.

He said AGOA is particularly important because it is supported by both Republicans and Democrats to support economic development in Africa.

South Africa’s trade minister, Ebrahim Patel, told lawmakers in his country last week that they would lobby for an extension of AGOA, citing huge benefits for domestic companies exporting to the U.S.

South Africa is one of the largest beneficiaries of AGOA, with exports to the US under the act estimated at $3 billion in 2022.

In a letter to members of the U.S. Congress, Biden said that despite intensive contacts with Niger, Uganda, the Central African Republic and Gabon, he had not addressed the United States’ concerns about its failure to comply with AGOA eligibility criteria.

He said Niger and Gabon had failed to establish or make continuous progress towards protecting political pluralism and the rule of law, while citing the Central African Republic and Uganda as having committed gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.

The U.S. government recently suspended most financial aid to Gabon following a military coup earlier this year.

In May, Biden threatened to remove Uganda from AGOA and impose sanctions after passing controversial anti-gay legislation. The law, which allows the death penalty for some homosexual crimes, has broad support in the country but has been condemned by human rights activists and others.

In a tweet, Ugandan government spokesman Ofwono Opondo appeared to downplay the expected impact of Uganda’s AGOA delisting, arguing that sanctions-hit Cuba and Iran have offered more to the world than many African AGOA beneficiaries.

However, for years, Ugandan officials, including long-time President Yoweri Museveni, viewed AGOA as a beneficial program, even if the country failed to realize its potential as a beneficiary.

South Africa’s continued participation in AGOA came under scrutiny this year when U.S. lawmakers from the Republican and Democratic parties questioned its eligibility to participate in AGOA, citing allegations that it had supplied weapons to Russia during its war with Ukraine.

They also called for the forum, to be held in another country, to send a message to South Africa about the impact of its close ties with Moscow.

An inquiry called by President Cyril Ramaphosa allowed South Africa to supply weapons to Russia. Ramaphosa is expected to address the forum on Friday.


Rodney Muhumuza in Kampala, Uganda, contributed to this report.

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