Despite a late push, Ethiopia is set to exit the US trade pact

Despite a late push, Ethiopia is set to exit the US trade pact
Published date:
Thursday, 30 December 2021
Author:
GEORGE MACKIE

Despite a last-minute drive backed by diaspora members who fear that Washington may lose an ally, Ethiopia is likely to lose important commercial privileges in the United States on January 1 due to human rights concerns.

President Joe Biden said on November 2 that Ethiopia, a longtime US ally and the continent’s second most populous country, will be removed from the African Growth and Opportunity Act in the New Year, citing “grave violations” in the year-long conflict with Tigrayan rebels.

The Ethiopian government has fought hard against the proposal, estimating that the 2000 law, which gives duty-free access to most goods, has supported one million employment directly or indirectly.

In a letter to Biden, the leaders of the Senate and House subcommittees on Africa encouraged him to reconsider the “rash” approach, citing a recent rebel retreat as an opportunity for negotiation.

Senator Chris Van Hollen and Representative Karen Bass, both members of Biden’s Democratic Party, stated, “We are concerned that suspending AGOA assistance will be unproductive and disproportionately damage the most vulnerable Ethiopians without helping to the cessation of hostilities.”

“Moreover, this decision encourages China to bolster its commercial presence in the Horn of Africa.”

Both Van Hollen and Bass represent areas with large concentrations of Ethiopian-Americans, a population estimated to number between 250,000 and one million people and which has increasingly flexed political power in the wake of the war.

Biden is unlikely to reconsider his decision before January 1, according to Mesfin Tegenu, chairman of the American-Ethiopian Public Affairs Committee, but the president might readmit Ethiopia “with a stroke of a pen.”

He praised Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government as “the most pro-Western the country has ever had,” and claimed that eliminating trade privileges would only invite China, which has been extending its influence in Africa and has chastised Biden for his decision.

“For our country to be freely replaced by a competitive power is going to be a disastrous mistake,” Mesfin remarked.

“Whatever political benefit the administration thinks they’ll receive from this, they won’t get it because the world’s geopolitical environment has changed.”

Mali and Guinea, both in the midst of a coup, were also pulled from AGOA by Biden. The administration stated that the three countries may re-enter provided their reservations were addressed.

When establishing AGOA, Congress imposed limitations, according to Jeffrey Feltman, the US special envoy for the Horn of Africa.

“According to the law, countries that commit grave violations of human rights would be denied. 

 

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