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USTR Says US is Re-Evaluating Interest in FTA with SACU

Published date:
Friday, 10 February 2006
American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)

U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman this week held open the possibility that the U.S. would reconsider continuing formal negotiations with members of the Southern African Customs Union over those countries' failure to agree to the scope of a deal.

"We don't want to walk away by any means if there's interest," Portman told reporters following a Feb. 7 speech on African trade issues. "We will continue to be there to engage but we have to keep our standards up high."

Portman said the U.S. is continuing to push for an agreement that includes eventual full market access openings in all sectors. SACU negotiators, however, want a deal with a more limited scope than what is

included in the standard U.S. FTA. They have identified intellectual property rights, services, labor, environment, government procurement and investment as sensitive areas.

A full agreement covering all sectors is required under World Trade Organization rules, according to Portman, as well as under the fast-track negotiating legislation.

Article 24 of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade allows members to extend trade preferences with bilateral or regional free trade agreements provided they cover substantially all trade and do not increase trade barriers to non-signatories.

Portman also acknowledged trade preferences that some of the five African countries receive under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) has become a hindrance to moving free-trade talks forward. Portman signalled current beneficiaries lack the incentive to offer

concessions in the free-trade negotiations because they are already benefiting from preferences provided unilaterally by the U.S.

"So the question is how much further can you go beyond AGOA to provide them with incentive to enter into an agreement," Portman said.

AGOA, which provides duty-free access into the U.S. for 98 percent of the goods produced in eligible sub-Saharan African countries, expires Sept. 30, 2015. However, provisions granting duty-free access for apparel containing third-country fabric and manufactured in AGOA

countries expires Sept. 30, 2007.

Portman described AGOA these two issues as holding up the scheduling of new talks with the five SACU countries, South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland, Namibia and Lesotho. A USTR spokeswoman said no dates or agenda have been set for the next round of negotiations. She said dates were still being discussed by the two sides along with other issues

related to the U.S. trade agenda with SACU.

According to business sources, the next "mini-round" of negotiations was expected to take place in the first week of February in Swaziland with a full round taking place in Washington, D.C. in April.

The U.S. agreed to restart negotiations on a comprehensive free trade agreement with SACU countries in September 2005 with the goal of completing the agreement by December 2006. But the negotiations stalled again late last year with SACU countries asking the U.S. to be more flexible on the scope of the agreement.

Portman was speaking at an event on Feb. 7 sponsored by the Corporate Council on Africa at which he stressed the need to increase trade as a long-term development solution for African countries, in particular encouraging participation in the global trading system and the Doha Negotiations.

“SACU Latest AGOA Trade Data currently available on

Click here to view a sector profile of SACU Region’s bilateral trade with the United States, disaggregated by total exports and imports, AGOA exports and GSP exports.

Other regularly updated trade statistics on include: (click each link to view)

  • AGOA-Beneficiary Countries’ AGOA and GSP Trade Aggregates

  • AGOA Trade by Industry Sector

  • Apparel Trade under AGOA’s Wearing Apparel Provisions

  • Latest Apparel Quotas under AGOA

  • Bilateral Trade Data for all AGOA-eligible countries individually.

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