USTR Lighthizer: US will soon select an African country for a 'model' free trade deal

USTR Lighthizer: US will soon select an African country for a 'model' free trade deal
USTR Lighthizer

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer expects the U.S. will soon strike a free trade deal with a “properly selected” African country that will become a model for others in the region, he said on Wednesday.  

During a radio interview at the White House, Lighthizer was asked about the potential for U.S. trade in the African region – something covered by the African Growth and Opportunities Act, which he said was designed to “get these economies to start moving forward” with “rules and structure that allows free enterprise to go forward.”

“They get duty preferences when they do that,” he noted. “I think that before very long we're going to pick out an African country, properly selected, and enter into a free trade agreement with that country,” he continued. “And then that, if done properly, will become a model for these other countries.”

 Lighthizer – who in the same interview cited President Trump's goal of striking “as many bilateral agreements” as possible – said he sees “enormous potential” in Africa.  “We're only a few years away from that being the population center of the world, and if we don't figure out a way to move them right then China and others are going move them in the wrong direction,” he said. “So there are a number of issues, a lot of challenges. It's extremely important, and it's something that we're very much focused on.”

 USTR, in the latter months of the Obama administration, issued a report on the future of the U.S. trade relationship with African countries after the unilateral preference arrangement laid out in AGOA expires or is outgrown.

 AGOA is likely to expire in 2025, providing what the September 2016 report called “a sense of urgency for the development of a new trade and investment framework and, for now, an unprecedented stretch of stability in the trading relationship during which the U.S. Administration, Congress, African partners, and U.S. and African stakeholders can plan, consult, and develop a consensus on this new framework.”

Negotiating comprehensive free trade agreements with each sub-Saharan African country would be unrealistic, the report said, although it allowed that the U.S. might be able to strike such deals with some.

The report laid out three different options for comprehensive deals, including one type that would be “built from scratch” with individual countries or regional economic communities within Africa. Such an approach, it argued, likely would “require significant periods of time for negotiation, especially with respect to disciplines that have not previously been included in African agreements or at the WTO.”

A second option would include the U.S. in a regional FTA – the type of deal the Trump administration has railed against. A third possibility, the report said, would involve the “docking” of African countries onto existing or renegotiated U.S. FTAs.

“One important lesson from the decades of our AGOA engagement is that policy reforms across a range of areas are necessary to create the right enabling environment for trade and investment and, without this, even generous tariff treatment can have a limited impact,” the report stated. “A reciprocal trading arrangement that encourages few policy reforms may be similarly limited in its ability to improve trade and investment between the United States and sub-Saharan Africa.”

During the radio interview on Wednesday, Lighthizer also repeated the administration's litany of complaints against Chinese trade practices and lament about the U.S. trade deficit with Beijing, decried the Senate's failure to date to approve any of his deputy USTR nominees and said the U.S. hoped to change World Trade Organization rules he said were “rewarding non-economic behavior.”

 

View related news articles

Biden’s fast-track Trade Authority (TPA) is set to expire this week

President Joe Biden is about to lose one of his main tools for getting trade agreements passed in Congress, dimming the outlook for deals already in the works with the U.K. and Kenya [See trade data below this article]. Trade Promotion Authority, or TPA, fast-track negotiating ability delegated to the U.S. president by Congress, is set to expire on Thursday. [See a FAQ guide here] That power, which was granted under the Trade Act of 1974,...

29 June 2021

Opinion | 'Africa's eyes are on Biden's prioritisation of continental trade'

When Donald Trump leaves the US capital tonight with his tail between his legs, it will be a moment of great relief for many Africans too. Like many in his own country, we've had it with his delusions of grandeur and, quite frankly, even Dinner at Somizi's was more entertaining than Trump's late-night tweets. With the possible exception of ACDP leader Kenneth Meshoe who, last year, urged us to pray for Trump's re-election, many of us...

20 January 2021

Former US negotiator: US-Kenya deal could spur regional value chains

A trade deal with the U.S. could help both Kenya and its neighbors in the East African Community by fostering the development of regional value chains, a former U.S. trade official tells Inside U.S. Trade. “I think it’d be really fascinating as we go forward with this U.S.-Kenya FTA to see what’s going to be possible not just for Kenya but for other African countries in various sectors,” Florie Liser, a former assistant U.S. Trade...

10 February 2020

President Trump announces intent to negotiate trade agreement with Kenya

President Donald J. Trump today announced the United States intends to initiate trade agreement negotiations with the Republic of Kenya following a meeting at the White House with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.  “Kenya is a recognized leader across the continent, an important strategic partner of the United States, and there is enormous potential for us to deepen our economic and commercial ties,” said United States Trade...

06 February 2020

US, Kenya reportedly to start trade talks seen as template for Africa

The U.S. and Kenya are expected to announce negotiations on a free-trade agreement next week, America’s first such deal with a sub-Saharan country, a person familiar with the plans said. The Trump administration wants the accord to be a model for future pacts with other nations in the region, one of the people said, declining to be identified because the talks are private. An announcement on the discussion will coincide with Kenyan...

29 January 2020

Looking forward: US-Africa relations [incl. Video]

Editor's Note: On March 26, 2019, Brahima Coulibaly testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations. His written testimony on Africa's rapid transformation and U.S.-Africa relations follows. Thank you, Chairwoman Bass and Ranking Member Smith, for your leadership with respect to U.S. engagement with Africa. Your active role in fostering the...

26 March 2019

Statement of USTR Robert Lighthizer at the opening plenary of the 2018

Welcome to this year’s AGOA Forum.  I am pleased to be with you all this morning.  The theme for this AGOA Forum is “Forging New Strategies for U.S. – Africa Trade and Investment.”  I’d like to spend my time with you addressing one very specific new strategy—the Trump Administration’s desire to negotiate a model free trade agreement with a sub-Saharan African country.   It has long been the desire of...

11 July 2018

US to initiate ‘exploratory talks’ on post-AGOA model at AGOA Forum

United States Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer will use this week’s African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) Forum in Washington DC to initiate “exploratory talks” with African governments on a possible trade model that could be implemented when the unilateral programme expires in 2025. Assistant US Trade Representative for Africa Connie Hamilton said on Monday that Lighthizer aimed...

10 July 2018

Trump Administration sends annual trade agenda report to Congress [DOWNLOAD]

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer delivered President Trump’s Trade Policy Agenda and Annual Report to Congress today, outlining how the Administration is promoting free, fair and reciprocal trade and strongly enforcing U.S. trade laws. “President Trump is keeping his promises to the American people on trade, from withdrawing the United States from the flawed Trans-Pacific Partnership, to renegotiating NAFTA, to...

28 February 2018

US should shift focus in Africa from aid to trade, analysts and officials say

The U.S. needs a new approach to Africa that is focused more on developing commercial ties and less on providing aid, analysts and government officials said Friday. Speaking at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event, Erin Walsh, assistant secretary of Commerce for global markets, said it was critical for the U.S. to pivot from a focus on aid to Africa to one of commercial engagement with African countries. To that end, she...

23 February 2018

USTR Lighthizer's African dream

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer sparked a new conversation in trade circles on Wednesday when he floated the idea of the Trump administration launching bilateral trade negotiations with an African country "before very long."  "Personally, I think that before very long we're going to have to pick out an African country — properly selected — and enter into a free trade agreement with that country," he said in an...

01 February 2018