Getting Started: AGOA Program Info
AGOA stands for “African Growth and Opportunity Act”. As the name suggests, AGOA forms part of United States trade legislation and was signed into law in May 2000 under President Bill Clinton. The AGOA legislation was initially enacted to cover the period 2000 – 2008, but has been extended a number of times since then, most recently in 2015 through an Act of Congress (and following a lengthy hearings process). It now expires in 2025.
The key feature of this legislation is that it abolished (for imports into the US) import duties on over 6,000 products ('tariff lines'), if these were manufactured in a Sub-Saharan African country that has qualified as a beneficiary of AGOA preferences. While the majority of these products already benefited from the US Generalized System of Preferences, this program was subject to more regular Congressional re-authorization processes which often resulted in periods in-between where no GSP preferences could be claimed (or duty-free claims were deferred). AGOA has provided longer-term certainty to traders.
The AGOA legislation is unilateral and non-reciprocal. This means that it forms part of US legislation, and the trade preferences relate only to the 'opening' of the US market by way of preferential market access to qualifying exports from AGOA beneficiary countries. AGOA does not require the same concessions from AGOA beneficiaries for imports from the US.
Prior to AGOA, countries classified as developing and least-developed and listed as GSP-eligible were able to export goods to the US under preferential (duty-free) conditions under the GSP. This is in many ways similar to the GSP that many other industrialized countries offer developing countries. But as mentioned above, GSP reauthorization is required more frequently and last expired at the end of 2020, and by mid 2023 had not been re-authorized by the US Congress.
AGOA therefore allocated duty-free status to virtually every GSP product, including those reserved for LDC beneficiaries, while also adding preference status to a further approximately 1,700 tariff lines (including textiles and clothing, provided that AGOA beneficiary countries have implemented an AGOA visa system for relevant preferential exports).
During the 1990s, the United States realized that it offered few tangible long-term trade benefits to exporters from African countries. In addition, the US wanted to create a more meaningful partnership with African countries based on economic growth and trade, by offering non-reciprocal trade and economic benefits and opportunities to qualifying Sub-Saharan African countries. Despite the US already having a trade preference program in place - the Generalized System of Preferences - AGOA was aimed at offering more attractive and longer-term benefits and incentives beyond those available to Sub-Saharan African countries under the GSP, while also being tied to a range of other commitments and additional US support.
The AGOA legislation originated in the US Congress. It was widely supported by Democrats and Republicans in a strong showing of bipartisanship, and easily passed both chambers of Congress (the House of Representatives, and the Senate) prior to being signed into law by President Bill Clinton. At the time, the legislation covered the years 2000 – 2008. Later legislative amendments have updated and extended AGOA - first to 2012, then 2015, and then to its current expiry date September 30, 2025.
AGOA forms part of United States legislation and and may be amended, extended or repealed by the US Congress prior to its automatic expiry on 30 September 2025.
While AGOA preferences are available to sub-Saharan African countries, not all countries are currently eligible beneficiaries. In order to be an AGOA beneficiary, a country must be listed as such and fulfil AGOA's eligibility provisions. This status is reviewed annually, and countries that no longer meet the eligibility criteria may lose their AGOA beneficiary status - this can also happen on an ad-hoc basis outside of the annual review period.
When a country that is not AGOA eligible - or which has lost its AGOA beneficiary status - fulfils the AGOA eligibility criteria, the US President may consider reinstating that country's AGOA beneficiary status. See, for example the official proclamation, regarding the status of Lomé.
Under the most recent extension of AGOA, its preferences and privileges were extended by a further 10 years from 2015 to 2025. This extension included the special preferences for wearing apparel, which allows beneficiaries subject to conditions to utilize imported fabric in their manufacturer of AGOA-compliant garments.
In summary, AGOA preferences are not permanent (they currently expire on 30 September 2025) and neither is a country's beneficiary status (eligible countries must continue to fulfil AGOA's eligibility criteria). Countries reaching a certain level of development may also be graduated out of the program.