- African Growth and Opportunity Act
TRALAC - Trade Law Centre
You are here: Home/News/Article/Full transcript and recording of telephonic press briefing: US Acting Director for Economic and Regional Affairs Harry Sullivan on AGOA

Full transcript and recording of telephonic press briefing: US Acting Director for Economic and Regional Affairs Harry Sullivan on AGOA

Full transcript and recording of telephonic press briefing: US Acting Director for Economic and Regional Affairs Harry Sullivan on AGOA
Published date:
Wednesday, 14 February 2018

OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, thanks for standing by and welcome to the Department of State AGOA and U.S. Economic Policy in Africa conference call. At this time, all participants are in listen only mode. Later, we will conduct a question and answer session, and instructions will be given at that time. As a reminder, today’s conference is being recorded. I would now like to turn the conference over to our first speaker, Mr. Brian Neubert. Please go ahead, sir.

MODERATOR: Thank you and good afternoon to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub. I would like to welcome our participants dialing in from across the continent and thank all of you for joining this discussion. Today, we are very pleased to be joined from Washington, D.C. by Mr. Harry Sullivan, the Bureau of African Affairs Acting Director for Economic and Regional Affairs. Harry will provide an update on U.S. economic policy in Africa and efforts to expand trade and investment in Africa under the African Growth and Opportunity Act, known as AGOA.

We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from Mr. Sullivan, and then we will turn it over to your questions. We will get to as many of them as we can, we have about 45 minutes. At any time during the call, if you would like to ask a question, you can press *1 on your phone to join the question queue. If you’d like to join the conversation on Twitter, please use  hashtag #AGOA2018, and you can also follow us: @africamediahub.



Listen to the media briefing below:



As a reminder, today’s call is on the record, and with that, I will turn it over to Acting Director for Economic and Regional Affairs Harry Sullivan.

SULLIVAN: Thank you, Brian. So my name’s Harry Sullivan, I’m working as Acting Director of the Office of Economic and Regional Affairs in the Bureau of African Affairs in the Department of State. So the first thing you’re probably wondering is what is the Office of Economic and Regional Affairs? Our office takes care of the continent-wide initiatives, we’re the home of the African Union office, so the United States is one of the non-A.U. members that actually has a dedicated mission to the African Union and the home in Washington of that mission, bureaucratically, is this office. 

We also look at pan-African issues, such as what’s happening with trade within African countries, between the United States and Africa, between Africa and third countries. We also look at macroeconomic issues, governance issues, a whole array of things. So with that context I’ll first give a few remarks at the beginning with an overview of U.S. economic priorities in Africa, and talk specifically about the role of the African Growth and Opportunity Act and some of the recent trends in U.S.-Africa trade, and then I’ll be happy to answer your questions.

We often say that the cornerstone of our trade policy with Africa is the African Growth and Opportunity Act. And that’s been true since 2000 when the first AGOA legislation passed, and AGOA’s special benefit is offering duty-free market access to thousands of products that are eligible to African countries. AGOA provides a powerful incentive to increase trade and investment that’s spurred inclusive economic growth and regional stability by providing that market access. 

African non-oil exports to the U.S. under AGOA have grown from 1.3 billion in 2001, the year that the legislation was passed, to 4.2 billion in 2016, and it’s even been better since then. Our government recently compiled statistics for U.S.-Africa trade through 2017, and I’m happy to report that the trend continues to be positive. Total U.S. trade with sub-Saharan Africa rose 16.8%, 33 billion in 2016, to 38.5 billion in 2017, last year. U.S. exports to African increased 4% to 13.1 billion, while African exports to the United States rose by more than 24% to more than 24 billion. Increased oil exports did account for a large share of this increase, but we also saw some encouraging signs of diversification. African exports of agricultural products to the United States rose 10% to 2.7 billion in 2017. We also saw another encouraging trend, which was that additional countries are taking more advantage of AGOA, so between 2016 and 2017, Ghana saw its exports to the United States more than double, with exports under AGOA quadrupling to more than $300 million. Madagascar also registered strong growth in garment exports under AGOA by more than 57% to $152 billion. Ethiopian exports under AGOA rose 35% to 92 billion. Countries like Senegal, Rwanda, Namibia, and Uganda have also succeeded in boosting overall exports to the United States and exports under AGOA. 

So, “How are we working to expand trade and investment in Africa?” you may ask. We know that although the figures that I just outlined are encouraging, they only scratch the surface of the potential of U.S.-Africa trade. So we’re continuing to work with African countries to help them reduce impediments to trade, strengthening their enabling environments for investment, and putting in place the right ingredients for the private sector to thrive, both the domestic African private sector and foreign investment. Through regional trade and investment hubs in [inaudible]and Nairobi and other technical assistance programs, USAID is helping African countries to reduce trade and investment barriers that have limited the benefits of AGOA, as well as impeding intra-Africa trade. For example, USAID has helped the African community reduce the time and cost involved in transporting goods, and USAID is also helping countries implement the trade facilitation agreement and comply with other World Trade Organization commitments that limit technical barriers to trade. These are really, really important, because the trade facilitation agreement gets at many of the factors that are keeping African countries from doing trade with each other. It helps to streamline customs procedures that lower the time and cost of moving goods across African borders, and since this agreement helps African trade, we are encouraging African countries to make more and higher-quality commitments, because it only helps themselves. 

Unfortunately, Africa has lagged behind the rest of the world in terms of levels of intra-regional trade, so trading among African countries. According to the World Economic Forum, roughly 12% of total African exports are to regional neighbors, compared with 25% in ASEAN and over 60% in the European Union. So we’re working with African countries to try to improve that number. We’re also supporting regional integration, which will not only bring direct benefits to countries that can supply regional markets, but it will help African economies to compete for investment and develop additional value chains that can supply global markets. That’s another goal, in order to integrate Africa into a global logistics chain.

So, with that, I’d like to open the floor for questions.

OPERATOR: [Inaudible]

MODERATOR: Thank you, Mr. Sullivan. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call. For those asking questions, please state your name and affiliation and we ask that you limit yourself to one question at the beginning. We have a number of questions that were submitted in advance, and I already see a number of you in our question queue. So we’re going to get right into those. And again, this is on the African Growth and Opportunity Act and U.S. economic policy in Africa. 

Again, to join the queue, you press *1 on your phone. If you are using a speakerphone, you may need to pick up the handset before entering *1. For those of you listening in French and in Portuguese, we can take your questions by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

With that, let’s go to a listening party at the U.S. embassy in Accra, Ghana. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Hello, my name is Emmanuel K Dogbevi and I work for Ghana Business News. Looking at AGOA, Africa exports only about $1 billion worth of textiles to the United States, and very soon the United States is going to open its doors with a similar arrangement with Asian countries, and looking at the fact that Vietnam alone supplies $20 billion worth of textiles to the U.S., isn’t that going to cut out Africa from the textile market with regards to AGOA and trade with the U.S.?

SULLIVAN: [Inaudible] on that a little bit?

MODERATOR: Harry, the question is related to competing export countries in Asia. Ghana, as you said in your opening remarks, has taken great advantage of AGOA in growing its textile and apparel exports, but countries like Vietnam are also big exporters, so what can African countries do to remain competitive or to increase their competitiveness?

SULLIVAN: So my understanding of the question is that in [inaudible] with Asian countries, that the United States was going to inaudible] that is taking place without the United States, so the United [inaudible] as far as I know, about to provide Asian countries with an arrangement that would offset the benefits that African countries are getting through AGOA. Over.

MODERATOR: Yes, go ahead, that’s correct. Go ahead and address that, if you would, Harry, thanks.

SULLIVAN: Okay, well, so as I indicated, there is not going to be a new arrangement that is going to offset the African benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act, but African countries will still have the same tariff-free access to the American market that they have had in the past, and Asian countries, by investing in African markets, thereby creating jobs and transferring technology to African countries, could take advantage of AGOA in that way, but there’s no arrangement with Asian countries that will offset the benefits that African countries have seen in the textile market through AGOA. 

The Transatlantic Partnership, which was something that the United States had initiated with Asia, is going to go into effect, but it’s going to go into effect without the participation of the United States because as a candidate when Donald Trump was campaigning for president, he said that he did not think that that arrangement would be beneficial for the United States, and when he became president, he then withdrew the United States from that arrangement. However, the other countries that were involved in that agreement have decided to proceed without the United States, and that is the agreement that is going to go into effect within the next year.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much for that, Mr. Sullivan, and as you noted at the top, Ghana has taken great advantage of AGOA and the questions about competitiveness are questions that every market, every country, whether it’s the entrepreneurs in the private sector or the governments, have to continually ask themselves, because they’re not just competing with their neighbors, they’re competing with other producers around the world. We’re going to turn now to a listening party at the U.S. Embassy in Harare, Zimbabwe. Please give us your name and outlet. Go ahead.

QUESTION: My name is John Kachembere from The Financial Gazette. My question for Mr. Sullivan is since we’ve had the new change of government since November last year, when are we likely to see Zimbabwe being eligible for AGOA?

SULLIVAN: That’s an excellent question. Every year there is an inter-agency process in Washington that considers new AGOA-eligible countries, and this year, in fact, we anticipate that The Gambia and Swaziland will rejoin AGOA. Zimbabwe, because the changes there are so new and because the group starts meeting really in the middle of each year, we anticipate that we’ll be discussing Zimbabwe this year. The other thing is that the situation is still new, we’re very optimistic, along with the Zimbabwean people, that change will continue to be positive and it’s a situation that we’re monitoring. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much for that explanation of the AGOA eligibility process. As we continue, I remind our listeners, including at listening parties at U.S. embassies and consulates, to join the question queue, you can press *1. We have a number of you in the queue that we’re getting to, and we also have questions that you’ve sent to us in advance. And with that, let me turn to U.S. Consulate Lagos. If you could introduce yourself and your outlet, please. Go ahead.

QUESTION: My name is [inaudibleThe Guardian in Nigeria. I would like to know what Nigeria’s contribution was to the AGOA last year in 2017 and which of the products among the normal exports made contributions to that number.

SULLIVAN: Okay, thank you. I’m going to hand you over to the trade specialist in my office, Ace Gazis, who has the data.

ACE GAZIS, TRADE SPECIALIST: Hello, this is Ace Gazis. For Nigeria, they were actually one of the biggest trading partners and saw the largest amount of growth last year. Their level of exports under AGOA went up by several million dollars, but most of that is in the oil sector. So we went from about 3.4 billion to 6 billion, and most of that growth was in the oil sector. Looking at other areas there, they did have some growth in agricultural exports but the levels are still very small, it went from around 3 million to 9 million, so it still was a fraction of the level of exports. This is a challenge that we see in a number of countries that depend heavily on oil, but they’re trying to diversify and develop exports in other areas.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much, and I’ll mention for our listeners, obviously when we talk about economic policy and trade and investment,we very often - pardon me for the technical interruption - we very often talk about data, and the Media Hub will work with the Africa Bureau to follow up on data requests if we’re not able to get to all of them today. 

I’d now like to turn to our question queue. Kevin Kelley is on the line; if you could introduce yourself and your outlet please. Go ahead and ask your question.

QUESTION: Yeah, hi, thanks for doing this today. My name is Kevin Kelley, I write for the Nation Media Group in Kenya and I’m based in New York. Mr. Sullivan, I wondered if you can give an update on what’s happening regarding the out-of-cycle review under AGOA for Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda, regarding their phased-in bans on used clothing exports from the United States. Constance Hamilton, at USTR - U.S. Trade Representative - said in August that she expected there’d be a resolution, a decision, by year’s end. As far as I know that hasn’t happened. There’s a proposal that these countries should be punished under AGOA for violating AGOA’s terms by instituting this ban. So can you say what’s happening with that, please?

SULLIVAN: Yes. Next week the leaders of Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda are going to meet on this issue, so I wish I was privy to what they might decide. They might not have come to consensus yet, I’m really not sure, but we are asking those three countries to do two things. One is to decrease their tariffs to their pre-2016 levels, and the second thing we’re asking is to commit that aside from health or sanitary reasons, not to phase out the export of used clothing.

So we’ve communicated that, we believe very effectively, to all levels of the three governments. The trade ministers met last Friday; I don’t have a read-out on what their discussions were. The leaders will meet next week, and I believe the result of that meeting will determine how we proceed.

MODERATOR: Thank you for that, I’m going to turn now to some of the questions we received in advance. Again, to join our question queue, if you press *1 we’ll get to as many questions as we can in the time that we have. Mr. Sullivan, from Radio France International we have a question. If you could give us an example or two of AGOA success stories. You’ve named some countries that have greatly benefitted in the last year or two, and one presumes that they’re seeing some economic growth benefits, but if you could share a few AGOA success stories with the listeners.

SULLIVAN: Yes, I’d be happy to. I’m also going to put on again our trade expert, Ace Gazis, who will share the success stories with you.

GAZIS: Hello again, this is Ace Gazis. I would just mention a couple of cases that Harry mentioned in his initial remarks. Ethiopia this year has had very strong growth, in particular in both garment and footwear exports. They’ve had some success in attracting investment in recent years into these sectors, and that is beginning to pay off more and you’re seeing that in the growth and the level of exports.

Another example would be Madagascar, which has also seen very strong growth in the garment sector. Madagascar is making up for some loss of trade when they lost their AGOA eligibility some years ago, so they’ve been making progress in catching up, and they have a very competitive garment sector. So those are just two examples, and I think what the expectation is when you start to see the garment and footwear and those manufacturing sectors begin to take off in countries, is that provides an entree into other areas of manufacturing, to develop more diversified exports.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Continuing to move through our questions, and Ace, you just mentioned Ethiopia. Let’s turn to our listening party at Embassy Addis Ababa.

SULLIVAN: If I could also respond to that.

MODERATOR: Go ahead, Harry. Sorry, before we turn to embassy Addis Ababa, let me allow Harry to chime in.

SULLIVAN: I think that we all like good news stories that resonate with folks, and even though - and Ace did a good job of conveying recent success stories, but getting to the firm level, for instance, I’d like to just highlight one firm that I met with during a recent trip to Africa, and that is Alaffia in Togo. What this firm does is it coordinates production of shea butter among poor women’s cooperatives in northern Togo, and processes the shea butter into soaps, into shampoos, into hand-washing detergent and into other products that are sold in the United States through Whole Foods, which is a kind of holistic natural foods store but on a nationwide supermarket level. And they pay above market rates for these products, because the products are really high quality. And this is one of the things that AGOA is designed to do, and that is to add more value-added to agricultural products in Africa, and then to - instead of just exporting coconuts or shea butter nuts to the United States - have some processing done in Africa and then finding a market in the United States for that.

The thing is that I’m now going to anticipate some of your questions, because doing business internationally is difficult. You’ve got to find the buyers, you’ve got to adhere to the phytosanitary requirements for food products, and AGOA, what it does is it provides a tariff-free way of accessing the United States market, which provides African producers with an advantage compared with other countries. But it’s still up to the African businessmen to make the connections in the United States with the buyers, to find out what the American market requires, to produce at the quality and quantity demanded by the American consumer. And often I’ll hear from my African counterparts that the American market has all these barriers. It’s not really barriers. If you produce for any market, you have those same challenges that you have to overcome. Those are the kinds of capacity restraints that we’re trying to deal with, with our trade hubs, but it’s really still up to the African private sector to find out where the opportunities are in the American market. Over.

MODERATOR: Let me turn now our U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa. We can follow up; I know Ethiopia’s taken great advantage of AGOA in the last year. Go ahead with your question, if you could introduce yourself and your outlet.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, I’m [inaudible] from The Herald Newspaper. My question is that in comparison with other African countries, do you think that Ethiopia has properly used the opportunity from AGOA? If your answer is no, why is that? If yes, tell me the reason. Thank you very much, over.

SULLIVAN: Brian, can you rephrase? I didn’t get that.

MODERATOR: Sorry, I’m going to ask if you could repeat your question, it’s not a great line there. You said something about - go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay, I am Alula from The Herald Newspaper. My question is that in comparison with other African countries, do you think that Ethiopia has properly used the AGOA? If your answer is no, why is that? And if not, please tell me. Thank you very much.

MODERATOR: Certainly. So as our colleagues were saying earlier, Ethiopia has taken great advantage of AGOA, and perhaps, Mr. Sullivan, if you could comment on how they were successful and what were the key steps they took to attract investment and to grow their exports, as you outlined just earlier.

SULLIVAN: Okay. I think that Ethiopia got off to a later start than some of the other AGOA-eligible countries, but one of the things that we were very encouraged from in this past year was a tremendous amount of growth from Ethiopia, and certainly Ethiopia’s a diversified market, which means it has more potential for exporting in the United States. You know, as a consumer of some African products here in the United States, because, for instance, we have a large diaspora in the United States, I can tell you that we can buy Tej here, we can get injera. The quality is a little bit different; it’s better in Ethiopia than it is here, but there are those agricultural products that are making headway, as well as textiles, and we think that Ethiopia has great potential.

MODERATOR: Thank you. For those of you that sent questions in advance, some of those we’ve posed and some of them are being addressed in the informative comments here from our colleagues. We have another listening party in Abuja, at the U.S. Embassy, in Nigeria. Go ahead and introduce yourself and your outlet. Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, good afternoon. My name is Fortune and I am from the News Digest of Nigeria here in Abuja, Nigeria. You actually talked about the level of achievement so far. I want to really find out - we know very well that the teaming youth in Africa contributes so much to production of gross domestic product. In what way do you think this can be enhanced, especially as ]we start in a new year to achieve more for the year?

SULLIVAN: Okay. So I think the key thing for Nigeria is diversification. So if you just want to increase exports to the United States, we’re always interested in oil and petroleum-derived products. But I think really in order to spread the wealth, Nigeria needs to diversify into other products. And I know that the government, for instance, is trying to spur greater agricultural diversification, certainly more agricultural products could mean more agricultural exports to the United States. Textiles and footwear are always an industry that leads the way with industrialization.

But the thing is that Nigeria itself has this incredible market. It’s the largest market in Africa, and not only that, you have the whole ECOWAS market behind Nigeria, so there really is a potential market for local industries, and one of the things that we would encourage Nigeria to do, that we’ve had mixed success with so far, is to liberalize in order to attract greater foreign investment, because there is a great interest in foreign companies and servicing the Nigerian market, but where investment has fallen through it’s because there have been a lot of restrictions on doing business in Nigeria that have thwarted not only foreign investment but also, I believe, domestic investment as well.

MODERATOR: Thank you for that, Mr. Sullivan. Continuing with our question queue, I want to thank everyone for their participation, a very active discussion today. We have a journalist here in South Africa. Go ahead and identify yourself and your outlet, please.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, my name is Asha Speckman, I’m with the Business Times newspaper. You said there’s been a fertile relationship between South Africa as part of the AGOA program, but to some degree there’s also been some thinking about it being a more developed, more advanced economy, so I just wanted you to share some perspective on whether the South Africa to be part of this program and perhaps how the relationship could evolve over time. And then I just wanted you to shed some light also on perhaps some longer-term futures of AGOA, because I understand, you know, there is an expiry in 2025, just what could happen beyond that?

SULLIVAN: Thanks, those are really good questions. I would say that because South Africa has a very diversified economy, with many private sector players that have a great deal of international business, that in fact, South Africa is better-poised than most countries in Africa in order to take advantage of AGOA, and in fact we find that there are many South African companies that are taking advantage of AGOA through a larger array of industries than what we see throughout the rest of the continent. 

I think that you’ve also got your finger on the pulse of something with the question about what happens after 2025. The short answer is that we don’t know, because in 2025 - so just to resume, in 2015 we passed another AGOA law that extends the AGOA benefits for 10 years, which is the longest amount of time in any AGOA reauthorization that we’ve extended the AGOA benefits. And the reason for doing that was that by giving a 10-year investment horizon, that would create a greater sense of certainty among both African and foreign investors that were investing in Africa, in order to take advantage of AGOA, to make their business investments.

So in 2025, there’s various pieces to this puzzle. First is that we don’t know what administration we’re going to have in 2025, so we don’t know what that piece is going to look like. But of course the African Growth and Opportunity Act has been passed by Congress, not by the administration, although administration support is important. There has been bipartisan support consistently for the African Growth and Opportunity Act; however, we also have, for instance, many of the third countries involved in Africa are either negotiating…

GAZIS: Economic partnerships.

SULLIVAN: Right. So the E.U. is negotiating economic partnership agreements, which is a two-way negotiation. We understand that China is beginning a free trade agreement negotiation with Mauritius, so we are thinking about how we can move the trade relationship between the United States and Africa to something that’s more reciprocal. But frankly speaking, these are very early days, and the players are going to be different in 2025, so we are exploring how we can move forward with our relationships with African countries beyond AGOA. And there was a very, very good report - you’ve probably seen it, based on your question - but there was a very good report that came out at the end of the Obama administration that is on the USTR website, and it’s called “Beyond AGOA,” and basically what it does is it looks at the various pieces that comprise our trading relationship with African countries, and the potential for moving forward in each one of those ways.

So again, this is a new administration, they’re looking at the work that was done - because actually, the folks that wrote the Beyond AGOA report are still in the U.S. government, and so they’re still informing the thinking of how to move forward. But I don’t have a firm answer for you; it’s something that we’re thinking about, something that we’re deliberating about. We would like to move forward in a more reciprocal way, but we’ll just have to see how things unfold.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much for that. For those of you on the call, again, we’re working our way through questions sent in advance as well as the question queue. On Twitter, you can follow us at @africamediahub. We’re using the hashtag #AGOA2018. I think most of you also have our email address, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. When we follow up after the call, the websites and resources and things that Mr. Sullivan and his colleague have mentioned, we’ll make those available to you and we’ll continue to follow up on your questions. With that, we have a caller, Amani Athar, who has been waiting for some time. Go ahead and identify yourself and your outlet, please.

QUESTION: You said Amani Athar?

MODERATOR: Go ahead, ask your question, please.

QUESTION: [inaudible] Hello, my name is [inaudible], I work with New Times Daily in Rwanda. I have one question, which is Trump’s administration’s slogan has been “America First,” and this also includes trade and other things. Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda are saying that it’s important  for them to boost their textile industries as well as shoe industries, and that’s why they’re putting a ban on the imported clothing from the U.S. and U.K. and Canada. This has raised concerns with the U.S., as you know, and I’m thinking, don’t you think this is a conflict of interest? Thank you.

SULLIVAN: Thank you very much for that question. While we understand the East African Community’s desire to build a domestic textile sector, we firmly believe that the EAC’s ban on imports of used clothing will not help achieve that. First, it’s job-destroying. The proposed ban will hurt an estimated 300 thousand men and women that work in the used clothing business all across the East African Community, and it will also negatively impact at least 40 thousand U.S. jobs in the used clothing sector in the United States. 

Secondly, it limits consumer choice. So basically what the leaders of the EAC are proposing is to say to consumers of used clothing, who are really the poorest consumers of east Africa, what they’re saying is we are going to take this choice away from you and you will not have access to this market anymore. So I really question whether the consumers of used clothing will be able to afford the new apparel being made in the EAC market. So rather than banning imported used clothing, we believe the most effective domestic growth strategy for the local fashion and apparel industry would be to build its brands and markets for the growing middle class, which prefers to buy new apparel in shopping malls and other places anyway. 

So you noted “America First.” I don’t know that it really has too much application here, but the administration does believe - and trade enforcement is an administration priority - but within the AGOA legislation itself, it says that in order to continue to  receive benefits under the AGOA program, countries must meet AGOA eligibility criteria, which include eliminating barriers to U.S. trade and investment. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much. I want to turn to Botswana; we have time just for a couple more questions, I want to turn to Botswana. We have a question. If you could identify yourself and your outlet, please.

QUESTION: Hello, my name is Baboloki Semele. I am an independent journalist, I report on a number of issues here in Africa. I want to believe that AGOA is for more than government officials, and that civic leaders and entrepreneurs in our country benefit from the AGOA project. How do you ensure that AGOA reaches the people it is supposed to reach: the small and medium enterprises and civic organizations? And I want to also know, can individual businesses benefit from the AGOA project? Thank you.

SULLIVAN: Thank you very much for that. So the African Growth and Opportunity Act, what it does is remove the tariffs from African goods, from 6,000 African products. And then it’s up to the African businesses to take advantage of that, to research the market in the United States, to find out what American consumer preferences are in whatever business they’re involved in, and then to build businesses from there. And breaking into international markets is difficult, but as we’ve seen with the growth of global trade, it’s very, very possible.

So the goal of AGOA is for individual businesses to benefit, and there’s a lot of talk about AGOA from government leaders because we’re trying to promote the benefits among the African private sector. So the AGOA isn’t for government bureaucrats to benefit by - in fact, unless there’s an African bureaucrat that has a business on the side, they can’t take advantage of AGOA. But it’s the government officials from both the United States and the African side that are promoting the benefits of AGOA to the private sector, trying to get the word out. So as a journalist, we hope that you will ally with us and discuss the benefits of AGOA and raise awareness about it from the private sector, because Botswana, as well, we think, has a lot of potential, and it’s not fully exploited, I think, because researching foreign markets takes time, and there may be as yet not a full awareness of the potential that actually exists.

So one of the things is that the American market is competitive. It’s difficult to break into. But country after country has enriched themselves based on the access to the American market, finding consumer niches that are unmet or can be better met, through trade. We’ve seen Japan and then Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and then mainland China, really enrich themselves because of the American market. What we’d like to see is since the African population will double by 2050, because there is a huge demographic wave of youth that is going to need jobs, we’re hoping that Africa can be the next area that takes advantage of these opportunities in the competitive and difficult American market, yes, but takes advantage of those huge, huge consumer opportunities in order to enrich itself. Thank you very much.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Mr. Sullivan. We’ve got a very long list of folks still in the question queue, we’re not going to be able to get to everyone. If you could just answer one last question, we’ll go back to our Embassy in Accra, Ghana, for one final question. Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. My name is Pius I work at Citi FM. I would like to find out, we recorded an improvement for Ghana’s exports for 2017; which particular areas are you looking at and which are the areas do you think we could work to improve? And secondly, do you think the Trump administration is going to in any way impact on the AGOA, looking at how he has been reacting to the other issues?

SULLIVAN: I’m going to first respond to the second question. I think there’s a lot of concern that I’ve heard voiced over the last year and a half about the Trump administration and AGOA. So let me reiterate that the AGOA [African] Growth and Opportunity Act is a piece of legislation. So it was passed by Congress, it has a 10-year window, and the executive branch does not have the power to willy-nilly overturn our legislation. 

So AGOA is safe until 2025, and I think there was another journalist who mentioned before “America First.” And let me just say that I think that this is an appeal to the U.S. domestic audience that has unfortunate international consequences. But let me ask you - for instance, in Ghana, now, is the policy of the government “Ghana Last”? No, it’s Ghana first. For Nigeria it’s Nigeria first, for South Africa it’s South Africa first. So every country looks after its national interests. And the United States has done so through, also, our alliances and our partnerships with other countries. 

So I wouldn’t really focus too much on “America First,” it’s something for Trump’s domestic audience. We’re going to continue to work through the African Growth and Opportunity Act to help our African partners [inaudible] get more integrated into the global [inaudible] to export more in the United States, and we firmly believe - I mean, the policy of this administration is that by helping with economic growth in Africa, combined with lobbying for good governance and also helping with national security, which is also important for economic growth and stability[inaudible] investment, that Africa will develop and become an even more fruitful partner of the United States. That’s our policy, that’s the Trump administration’s policy. It’s not very much of a dramatic departure from the Obama [inaudible].

As far as Ghana, we also [inaudible] I think Ghana has a similar situation as what I was talking about in Togo. So, for instance, with the shea butter, sort of exporting it to the United States, doing some processing in Africa, the more [inaudible] Africa, the better for Africa, and then exporting to the United States.

There are a lot of products [inaudible] Ghana, for instance, Togo, everybody knows, you provide a huge portion of cocoa to the world, so if you could do some first-class processing in Ghana, that would add value to your economy. Shea butter, I believe, is also present in northern Africa, and looking at those kinds of agricultural products as well as light industry, would [inaudible]. Ghana has been a really good [inaudible] and I think it can build on those attributes. I visited Ghana several years ago, and one of the things that really struck me was the vibrancy of the private sector. I mean, the Ghanaians have entrepreneurship in their blood, so what they need to do, though, is move from the market entrepreneurship to larger scale, and that can happen perhaps through cooperatives, but [inaudible] that Ghanaians and other Africans will need to do is link up with potential purchasers in the United States, but one of the key things in the American market is the benefits are huge, but you need to produce to the quality and quantity necessitated, and sometimes cooperatives can provide a mechanism for pooling resources in order to provide the quantity needed.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Mr. Sullivan. Let me give you an opportunity, if you’d like, to offer any final words before we conclude today’s call.

SULLIVAN: The main thing is that I think that there’s huge potential in Africa. There’s also huge potential for African businesses in the United States. It’s not easy, but I think businesses that have been able to take advantage successfully of the American market have benefitted significantly and I would encourage you all to promote AGOA among the private sector in Africa, and work with our trade hubs in order to make concrete opportunities happen.

MODERATOR: That concludes today’s call. I want to thank Harry Sullivan, the Bureau of African Affairs Acting Director for Economic and Regional Affairs, he joined us today from Washington, and I want to thank all of our callers and embassies and consulates around Africa who hosted listening parties. If you have any questions about today’s call or questions that come up after today’s call, you can contact the Africa Regional Media Hub at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Thank you.

Read related news articles

Media advisory | December 12 digital press briefing: US-Africa leaders summit – one year anniversary [with Factsheet]

Media Advisory | December 12 Digital Press Briefing: U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit – One Year Anniversary of Implementation EVENT:  Please join us on Tuesday, December 12, 2023, for a digital press briefing with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of African Affairs Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Jonathan Pratt and National Security Council Senior Director for African Affairs, Judd Devermont.  Principal...

08 December 2023

AGOA Forum 2023: Digital press briefing with officials in the USTR and State Department [Transcript]

MODERATOR:  All right.  Good afternoon to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub.  I welcome our participants logging in from across the continent and thank all of you for joining this discussion.  Today, we are very pleased to be joined by the Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Africa Constance Hamilton and Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of African Affairs of the State...

26 October 2023

'Funding challenges undermine SMEs’ growth in Africa'

Analysts who spoke at a recent webinar organised by the American Business Council in Nigeria, in collaboration with US Chamber of Commerce, Amcham Ghana and Amcham South Africa on the US-Africa relations, have identified lack of adequate funding as a major challenge to the growth of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in Africa. The analysts were of the view that SMEs across Africa are faced with serious funding challenges, despite their...

30 July 2021

Remarks: The enduring partnership between the United States and South Africa

REMARKS by TIBOR P. NAGY, JR., ASSISTANT SECRETARY, BUREAU OF AFRICAN AFFAIRS, UNIVERSITY OF THE WITSWATERSRAND, JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA As Prepared Thank you Deputy Vice Chancellor Vilakazi for the introduction.  I’m grateful to you and to everyone at Wits University and the African Centre for the Study of the United States for hosting today’s event. And thanks to all of you here today for this wonderful welcome to South...

21 June 2019

What having new US official for Africa means for the continent

While on a visit to Kigali, Tibor P. Nagy, Jr, the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs, has introduced a new official and the role he will play on the continent. Nagy announced that Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan will visit South Africa and Angola from March 12 to March 18 to hold discussions with government officials, and continue ongoing bilateral ties between the U.S. and the two countries. Sullivan...

13 March 2019

Telephonic press briefing with Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs

MEDIA ADVISORY | December 6, 2018  Telephonic Press Briefing with Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs, Tibor P. Nagy, Jr. EVENT Please join us on Thursday, December 6, 2018 at 11:30 UTC| 13:30 SAST| 14:30 EAT for a telephonic press briefing with Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs, Tibor P. Nagy, Jr. Assistant Secretary Nagy will speak to us from Nairobi,...

03 December 2018

Africa Media Hub - telephonic press briefing with US Dep Asst Sec of State Peter Haas [incl. transcript and sound file]

EVENT: Please join us on Tuesday, August 21 at 09:00 EDT/13:00 GMT/15:00 CAT for a telephonic press conference with State Department Economic and Business Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Trade Policy and Negotiations, Peter Haas where he will preview his travel to South Africa and Ethiopia to promote agricultural innovation, science-based regulatory policy, and increased trade.  Mr. Haas will participate as a...

20 August 2018

Remarks by Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan at the AGOA Forum

DEPUTY SECRETARY SULLIVAN: Thank you, Robert, for that kind introduction, and good morning, everyone. It’s a pleasure to be with you this morning. On behalf of Secretary Pompeo, I’m honored to welcome you to the State Department. And on behalf of the United States Government, I’m delighted to open the 17th annual Sub-Saharan Africa Trade and Economic Cooperation Forum. Before I proceed, I’d like to recognize our distinguished...

11 July 2018

US State Dept: Forging new strategies for US-Africa trade and investment

This year the U.S Department of State is proud to host the 17th annual African Growth and Opportunities Act Forum, commonly known as AGOA, from July 11-12 in Washington, DC. This year's theme   "Forging New Strategies for U.S.-Africa Trade and Investment," reflects the U.S. commitment to boosting economic growth, spurring development, and reducing poverty in Africa through sustainable business practices and mutually...

11 July 2018

Tillerson: US-Africa relations - A new framework

Remarks by Rex W. Tillerson, Secretary of State, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia MR CABRERA: Good morning, everyone. Thank you so much for being with us today for a very, very special presentation. I’m honored to welcome our Secretary of State to George Mason, who, as you know, is on his way to a very important trip to Africa. And I’m slightly biased, but I think his choice of George Mason for this...

06 March 2018

Senior State Department officials previewing Secretary Tillerson's travel to Africa

MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you very much for joining us for today’s teleconference. Today we will have senior State Department officials previewing the Secretary’s upcoming travel to the continent of Africa. I want to remind you that today’s call is on background, and I’ll describe the attribution in just a few seconds. Today’s conference – our briefers today will be [Senior State Department Official One];...

03 March 2018

You are here: Home/News/Article/Full transcript and recording of telephonic press briefing: US Acting Director for Economic and Regional Affairs Harry Sullivan on AGOA