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US committed to ‘seamless’ AGOA renewal, USTR Tai says

US committed to ‘seamless’ AGOA renewal, USTR Tai says
Published date:
Friday, 03 November 2023
Author:
Jennifer Zabasajja and S'thembile Cele
Source:

The US aims to ensure that its preferential trade pact with Africa is replaced without interruption when it expires in two-year’s time, while bringing it up to date.

“We want to make sure that as of Sept. 30, 2025, that there will be another Agoa that will pick up from this one,” said US Trade Representative Katherine Tai, referring to the African Growth and Opportunity Act. “It is a seamless renewal that we’re looking for,” she said in an interview with Bloomberg Television in Johannesburg broadcast on Friday.

The top US trade representative is in South Africa to attend an annual forum on Agoa, which became law in 2000 and has since been at the core of US trade and investment policy with sub-Saharan Africa.

President Joe Biden on Wednesday said he strongly supported Agoa’s reauthorization and urged Congress to act in a timely fashion, marking his latest move to signal US commitment to a region that is being courted aggressively by China.

The pact currently gives more than 30 nations duty-free access to the world’s biggest economy and in December, US and African trade officials agreed that Agoa’s current iteration needs modernization and stronger implementation.

Tai said one of the developments the US wants to ponder is the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area, which the World Bank says can lift 30 million people out of extreme poverty.

Modernization

“As part of looking at the Agoa program, we should try to figure out whether there’s more and what more we could do with the Agoa program to complement the program and the aspirations that are within the AfCFTA,” she said.

The US is also looking at how to improve utilization rates under Agoa, which is aimed at poor countries, while also focusing on how to support those who succeed in winning middle-income status.

“Once you graduate out of Agoa you kind of start over at square one in terms of your trade relationship with the US,” Tai said.

Agoa can also be used to penalize countries that fail to meet the eligibility requirements laid out by Congress, which include respecting human rights and democracy.

Biden on Monday terminated the status of four countries for failing to meet the requirements of eligibility.

These include Uganda — dropped in response to its draconian anti-LBGTQ laws — as well as Central African Republic, where Russian mercenary group Wagner established a presence in recent years, and Gabon and Niger, both of which had coups this year.

Some US lawmakers have separately pushed the Biden administration to review South Africa’s access to Agoa amid frustration over the country’s non-aligned position toward Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and because they deem it too developed to qualify.

Tai didn’t comment on those calls, but said there was strong bipartisan support for the program.

“There are so many reasons for the United States to be investing in and enhancing our relationship with Africa,” she said. “We have a very strong interest for continuing to articulate our vision for how the United States can show up as a strong partner.”

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