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US Announces Fifth Africa Trade Forum for Washington

Published date:
Friday, 12 May 2006

The fifth African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Forum will be held in Washington June 6-7, and will focus on the private sector and helping eligible African nations develop real growth in gross domestic product through trade expansion into U.S. markets, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer announced May 11.

Frazer told journalists at a May 11 briefing that more than 35 African trade and finance ministers will attend the AGOA forum, as will hundreds of participants of the private sector and civil society.

She added Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice planned to address the opening of the forum whose official theme is: The Private Sector and Trade: Powering Africa's Growth.

AGOA provides duty and entry-free access to a wide range of more than 6,400 items -- including textile products -- into the U.S. market for African nations willing to reform their economies along free-market lines. The landmark trade legislation -- the first of its kind with Africa -- first was passed by Congress in 2000 and since has been updated and renewed by President Bush.

"AGOA continues to be a key component of a broader strategy for growth and development" in Africa, Frazer said.

Frazer told journalists, "AGOA has been and continues to be a success. In 2005, U.S. imports from AGOA countries totaled $38.1 billion up 44 percent from 2004." However, she added that a smoothly operating "business climate" still was lacking in many African nations, an impediment to trade expansion.

Touching on the fact that a majority of U.S. imports from Africa are still in the energy sector, Frazer added, "There has been an impressive increase in a wide array of product categories not just petroleum. While U.S. imports of apparel from AGOA countries dropped in 2005, imports of products from other sectors including agricultural products, machinery and electronics all increased."

A State Department AGOA fact sheet also confirmed that since 2000 exports in a number of other areas were up including: footwear, 306 percent; toys and sportswear, 88 percent; fruits and nuts, 81 percent; and cut flowers, 35 percent.

Steve Hayes, president of the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA), a trade advocacy nongovernmental organization that will co-host the private sector component of the forum, told the briefing, "I think textiles and apparel have been a very important part of AGOA, but there is a reason for the more than 6,000 other product lines."

Hayes said every African country can produce agricultural products but help is required from the private sector and the U.S. government to help expand export markets.

One problem, said Hayes, is that "the private sector in the United States hasn't really taken advantage of what I think is one of the greatest pieces of legislation between the United States and Africa. AGOA represents a great opportunity for American companies to invest in Africa and it's our [CCA's] role to move that agenda forward."

Having just returned from visits to South Africa, Namibia and Kenya, Lloyd Pierson, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) assistant administrator for Africa, told journalists, "We're looking forward to this forum. AGOA is very dynamic. It is doing a great job right now" in Africa.

For USAID, AGOA in Africa "means jobs, jobs and jobs," Pierson said. The agency is also making it easier for Africans and U.S. investors to obtain information about AGOA through four regional trade hubs in Accra, Ghana; Dakar, Senegal; Gaborone, Botswana; and Nairobi, Kenya.

The hubs, meant to be one-stop shopping centers for investors, are an important adjunct to the AGOA process, Pierson said.

Asked if President Bush still took the same keen interest in AGOA as he did when he mentioned the program numerous times during his July 2003 trip to Africa, Frazer said, "President Bush continues to see AGOA as a key component of his policies to address economic growth and development in Africa."

She added that those policies included "the Millennium Challenge Account [MCA], increases of foreign assistance at historic levels -- over $4 billion - [and] also what we're going to do at this AGOA Forum to reach the private sector. And finally on the multilateral front, transforming the WTO [World Trade Organization] and Doha [process] trying to end all agricultural subsidies" and further work on debt cancellation initiatives.

Follow these links to the provisional agenda and forum program.

Private Sector Forum; Civil Society Forum.

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