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Private Sector, Trade Main Issues for Africa Trade Act Forum

Published date:
Wednesday, 24 May 2006

"The time is now for economic development in Africa," and it is precisely that point that will be emphasized at the upcoming fifth annual African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Trade Forum, says Lloyd O. Pierson, assistant administrator for Africa at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

In a May 24 interview with the Washington File, Pierson said the June 6-7 forum will be held in Washington in 2006 with the theme of "The Private Sector and Trade: Powering Africa's Growth."

"I think you will not see any type of large announcement as we did the last time [in announcing the establishment of a fourth USAID trade hub office in Dakar], but more on how we really implement the economic development and trade programs that we have in Africa," Pierson said of the upcoming event. (See related article.)

Pierson said the United States largely views Africa as an agrarian society. "So I think we will be looking at what we can do to accelerate the trade and investment in agriculture in Africa" and help improve the quality of African agricultural products to meet worldwide trade standards.

Pierson said it is most important that all things be done with Africa in a spirit of partnership with Africans.

A second issue USAID hopes to address at the forum, Pierson said, is the cotton situation in West Africa that has been the subject of "very intense talks" at the World Trade Organization meetings in Hong Kong. That issue, he said, has been followed up by USAID in "very serious" meetings in Benin. "I would expect that â-oe we will be addressing the cotton issue" at the forum as well, he added.

Asked about the significance of these forums, Pierson said they are "extremely important" because they bring together the principals from the United States and African countries on three different levels: government, private sector and civil society - all of whom actually participate in their own respective AGOA forum.

The AGOA Forum is also important, he said, because it stands as a "continuum." Many of the key people in most of these countries are the same people who will be at other economic development meetings, he said. "So it is continuously being able to reinforce the importance of economic development" that is so important at the forum and other such sessions.

U.S.-Africa two-way trade has increased 115 percent since AGOA's inception in 2000, and as such, Pierson said, "AGOA is a success and it will be even more successful." He called AGOA "one of the very best pieces of legislation that the United States Congress has passed and one of the very best ideas supported by the administration."

With regard to AGOA, Pierson predicted "the real success is yet to come. If you look back â-oe since its creation, there is a pretty good laundry list of very good things that have happened, but the very best for AGOA is in the future."

Being specific, he said, "We see, even from our standpoint, the increasing emphasis that we are giving, that other agencies are giving, that Africans are giving to international investment, to sound economic policies." To be most effective, he said, "All of this also has to be seen within the context of democracy and good governance."

Pierson acknowledged that it is "very very difficult" for economic development to occur in the absence of democracy and good governance both at the top and throughout any society.

More than 35 African trade and finance ministers are expected to attend the forum, as will hundreds of participants of the private sector and civil society. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to address the forum.

AGOA provides duty-free access to a wide variety 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.

The 2006 AGOA Ministerial will take place on June 6-7. This will be preceded by the Private Sector Forum on 5 June, while the Civil Society Forum will run in parallel to the Ministerial on 6-7 June.

For further program details of the Civil Society Forum please download the program here, and for that of the Private Sector Forum click here.

Read a related article here.

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