Country Eligibility Criteria and AGOA Beneficiary Status
The AGOA legislation makes provision only for countries of Sub-Saharan Africa to be eligible as AGOA beneficiaries. However, not all eligible countries are currently AGOA beneficiaries.
Qualification is not automatic and countries are required to meet a number of conditions on an ongoing basis in order to benefit from AGOA preferences when exporting to the United States.
When a country of Sub-Saharan Africa does not meet (or no longer meets) the AGOA eligibility requirements, its preferential market access to the US market under AGOA can be suspended. The US conducts an annual review of all AGOA beneficiary countries, a process that includes public hearings, and which allows for submissions.
Over the years, some AGOA beneficiary countries lost their AGOA status due to non-compliance with the AGOA eligibility requirements. Some have regained AGOA status, for example Madagascar, Eswatini, DRC and others.
A list of countries that are currently eligible as an AGOA beneficiary can be viewed in the table at the following link.
The map below provides a snapshot of Sub-Saharan African countries' current AGOA beneficiary status.
The US President may designate a country as a beneficiary Sub-Saharan African country eligible for AGOA preferences if he determines that the country meets the eligibility criteria set forth in:
(1) Section 104 of AGOA (see 19 U.S.C. 3703); and
(2) section 502 of the 1974 US Trade Act (see 19 U.S.C. 2462).
Only countries in Sub-Saharan Africa can be AGOA beneficiaries, since the legislation specifically seeks to enhance the trade, investment and political relationship between the US and Sub-Saharan Africa. In order for a country to qualify as an AGOA beneficiary, and to maintain its beneficiary status, it must meet a number of criteria set out for this purposes by the AGOA legislation as well as by the US Trade Act of 1974 (see links above). A country must also be eligible for the US Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), whose eligibility requirements and those of AGOA essentially overlap.
While GSP eligibility does not imply AGOA eligibility, 47 of the 48 Sub-Saharan African countries are currently GSP eligible.
Among the required criteria, a country must have established, or make continual progress towards establishing, a market based economy, political pluralism, respect private property rights, incorporate an open rules-based trading system, eliminate barriers to US trade and investment, respect internationally recognized human rights, protect worker rights and so forth.
In addition, the country may not engage in activities that undermine US national security or foreign policy interests.
A more complete list can be found at this link.
Countries that do not meet these criteria may lose their AGOA beneficiary status. The US routinely - at least on an annual basis - assesses ongoing compliance with these criteria and in the event of a country no longer meeting the criteria will place that country on notice pending suspension from receiving AGOA preferences. Under the most recent AGOA legislation (2015), a variety of stakeholders including private organizations and entities have the right to apply for an AGOA beneficiary’s status under the AGOA legislation to be reviewed, should there be evidence of a country not or no longer meeting the AGOA eligibility requirements (See details of the petition process at this link to the relevant section of the Trade Preferences Extension Act of 2015.
Primary drivers for such an eligibility review may be, for example, when trade or investment barriers that unfairly target US exports or companies are put in place.
During 2015, South Africa was subject to an extensive AGOA Eligibility Review, owing to concerns by the US about South Africa's treatment of certain imports of chicken, beef and pork. Documents from this review can be viewed here.
As of 2023, 35 countries were designated as AGOA beneficiaries.