Ethiopia 'lashes out at US over possible trade pact expulsion'

Ethiopia 'lashes out at US over possible trade pact expulsion'
Hawassa industrial park, Ethiopia
Published
Friday, 08 October 2021 ~ Bryant Harris

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came out swinging on Thursday against US threats to remove Ethiopia from a key trade pact over the humanitarian crisis in Tigray.

The prime minister’s office released a video urging the United States not to expel Ethiopia from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which grants eligible participants in Sub-Saharan Africa duty-free access to the US market for thousands of products.

The video highlights a woman named Saron working in an Ethiopian garment factory using the Twitter hashtag #LetHerWork. It says she is one of hundreds of thousands young women employed in Ethiopia’s AGOA-dependent industrial parks. 

“With the potential for AGOA sanctions, losing this opportunity not only means loss of occupation, but also driving millions into poverty,” a voiceover states. “And women like Saron would face forced marriage and illegal migration.”

The video represents Ethiopia’s most public pushback against President Joe Biden administration’s threatened penalties on Addis Ababa over the Tigray crisis.

It comes after US Trade Representative Catherine Tai took the unusually rare step of warning her Ethiopian counterpart Mamo Mihretu in August that “the ongoing violations of internationally recognised human rights amid the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis in northern Ethiopia” could “affect Ethiopia’s future [AGOA] eligibility if unaddressed.”

The Office of the Prime Minister's tweet and video below:

 

Cameron Hudson, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Africa Centre, told The National that he expects the Biden administration to notify Congress of Ethiopia’s expulsion from AGOA by November 1.

“It would have both a practical impact and also a symbolic impact,” said Mr Hudson.

“This would put Ethiopia in a distinct minority in having been kind of unceremoniously removed from this programme, and so it’s just another measure of where the bilateral relationship is.”

While most countries that benefit under AGOA primarily export raw materials, Ethiopia is unique in that it relies on the trade pact for tariff-free exports of its light manufacturing industry, including garments.

“It’s a lot of money for them,” Karl Von Batten, the head of the consulting firm Von Batten-Montague-York told The National. “In five years, the projection was a few billion dollars.”

Mr Von Batten has been lobbying the Biden administration and Congress to expel Ethiopia from AGOA in the hopes it will prompt Mr Abiy’s wealthy backers to pressure him to end the conflict in Tigray.

“What it’s going to do is impact the power brokers who are making millions off this, who are grassroots supporters of Prime Minister Abiy,” said Mr Von Batten. “We’re hoping that it will compel them to come to the table to call for a ceasefire, negotiations, peace talks.”

“It pains me to do this because this is going to affect people’s lives, but it’s the law.”

AGOA stipulates that a country must “not engage in gross violations of internationally recognised human rights” in order to receive preferential trade status.

Under US law, the president must publish a determination as to whether AGOA beneficiaries such as Ethiopia continue to meet the eligibility requirements in the federal register every year.

The National first reported last month that the State Department is reviewing whether Ethiopia’s actions in Tigray constitute a genocide. A genocide designation could make it hard to justify keeping Ethiopia in AGOA under the law’s eligibility requirements.

Mr Biden also signed a broad executive order last month paving the way for sanctions on all actors responsible for human rights violations in the Tigray civil war, including the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments as well as the Amhara Regional Government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.

Before the threats of AGOA expulsion, the Ethiopian government previously had little to say as a public response to the Biden administration’s interagency pressure campaign over Tigray.

“I look at this video in the context of what the Ethiopian government is doing more broadly, which is not responding to the overwhelming criticism with introspection, with the review of its own policy,” said Mr Hudson.

“This video is a consistent policy of trying to spin their way out of this. And this conflict in Tigray, if it has been marked by anything, it has been marked by propaganda efforts to explain away what is going on through a very advanced and sophisticated propaganda campaign led in large part by the Ethiopian government.”

Although Ethiopia has maintained an internet, phone and media blackout in Tigray, witnesses have described widespread human rights abuses, including the displacement and murder of civilians, gang rape, the destruction of civilian infrastructure and the burning of crops.

The Ethiopian government has also blocked humanitarian aid to Tigray, recently expelling UN aid workers.

An Amnesty International report released last month found that Ethiopian forces and their allies “subjected hundreds of women and girls to sexual violence”, war crimes that may also amount to crimes against humanity.

Fighters from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front have also retaliated with their own abuses during raids on villages in Amhara, including a massacre last month that killed 120 people.

View related news articles

Ethiopian trade negotiator: 'Don’t remove Ethiopia’s AGOA trade privileges'

U.S. President Joe Biden recently threatened to impose sanctions on Ethiopia due to the conflict in Tigray. If Washington follows through and removes preferential trade arrangements under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), Ethiopia’s fledgling manufacturing sector could face an existential threat. While many people around the world share the U.S. government’s concern about “the peace, security, and stability of...

13 October 2021

Ethiopia pushes to keep AGOA access amid US rights concerns

Ethiopia urged the U.S. to let it retain market access under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) because disqualification will deprive many people of their livelihoods in the conflict-wracked country. A withdrawal of the preferential access would put as many as 85,000 direct jobs at risk and about 1 million across the entire value chain, Ethiopia’s Chief Trade Negotiator Mamo Meheretu said in an interview from the capital, Addis...

08 October 2021

Ethiopia: AmCham urges policy makers not to revoke AGOA privilege

The American Chamber of Commerce in Ethiopia (AmCham Ethiopia), has asked the US and Ethiopian governments and policymakers not to rush to revoke Ethiopia form the list of the privileged countries that has granted an access to export products to the United States (US) market under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). AGOA trade program provides duty-free access for 38 Sub-Saharan African countries to export their product to the US...

02 October 2021

US says war in Ethiopia's north could affect trade benefits

The ongoing war and humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia's north could affect the country's trade benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), the U.S. Trade Representative's Office said. The AGOA trade programme provides sub-Saharan African nations duty-free access to the United States on the condition they meet certain eligibility requirements, such as eliminating barriers to U.S. trade and investment and making progress towards...

27 August 2021

'Changing jeans sourcing scene has these countries coming up roses'

The sourcing landscape for denim jeans is slowly but certainly shifting, while overall U.S. blue denim apparel imports continue to decline. Imports of jeans fell 7.43 percent in the first two months of the year compared to the same period in 2020 to a value of $460.25 million, expanding on a 5.36 percent year-over-year falloff in January, according to the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles & Apparel (OTEXA). Coming off...

09 April 2021

Kenya, Ethiopia ahead of region in benefits of AGOA treaty

Kenya led the East African Community members in its use of the Africa Growth Opportunity Act (Agoa) treaty, scoring 98 per cent. However, it came second to Ghana which recorded 99.1 per cent with Madagascar coming third at 93.7 per cent. According to data contained in the US Trade and Investment with sub-Saharan Africa: Recent Trends and New Developments report, Ethiopia at 81.9 per cent and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)...

26 May 2020

New Ethiopia AGOA strategy in full swing

The USAID Hub’s lead African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) strategy consultant is in Ethiopia this week to gather supply-side information and conduct a sector analysis for a new Ethiopia National AGOA Strategy. The Ethiopian government requested the Hub to provide technical assistance on the Strategy, which will set strategic actions and targets for significant growth in exports from Ethiopia to the United States by 2025. The Hub began...

17 January 2019

Ethiopia's exports to US under AGOA increasing

Ethiopia's export under AGOA has jumped by 62 percent between October 2017 and September 2018. The country experienced the largest increase exports in the period under review, according to USAID East Africa Trade and Investment Hub. "If this growth continues, Ethiopia may quickly become the second or third largest exporter under AGOA in East Africa," the Hub said. East African countries supported by the USAID-Hub reached nearly one billion...

02 January 2019

Ethiopia: Institute says textile, garment market expanding

The Ethiopian Textile Industry Development Institute said the foreign currency generated from the textile sector has been steadily growing. Institute Communication Directorate director Bantihun Gessesse told The Ethiopian Heraldthat textile products have entered into Germany, Italy, China and United States through AGOA. In addition, Sudan and Kenya have become market destiny and over the last three months the nation has earned $31.2...

12 December 2017

Ethiopian footwear on the rise (includes latest data)

The East African nation is ramping up sourcing capabilities, positioning the region (includes neighboring Kenya) as an up-and-coming hub for footwear manufacturing. Low-cost labor pool? Check. Abundant raw materials? Check. Low electricity costs? Check. Shorter lead times to the United States market? Check. Lower minimums? Check. Heavy investment in infrastructure and factory capabilities? Check. Duty-free pricing? Check. What’s not...

29 November 2017