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AGOA Forum 2007: US-Africa forum expanding beyond trade issues

Published date:
Friday, 18 May 2007

Trade facilitation will share the stage with finance, infrastructure development, product quality standards and a host of other economic issues at the Sixth African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Forum, U.S. officials say. [Download the draft programme on at this link].

The forum, which annually brings together high-level officials from the United States and representatives of the 38 AGOA-eligible countries, will take place in Accra, Ghana, July 18-19. U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns will attend.

Briefing reporters May 18 at the Washington Foreign Press Center, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said that in addition to an expanded agenda, for the first time the forum will include private sector and civil society participants. She was joined by representatives from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

AGOA provides duty-free treatment to more than 6,000 products from the AGOA countries. Thomas-Greenfield said that two-way trade between the United States and sub-Saharan Africa rose to a new high of $71 billion in 2006. U.S. imports of AGOA-eligible products totaled $44.2 billion last year, up 16 percent from the 2005 level. Even though much of the growth was due to petroleum, she said that excluding petroleum, imports climbed 7 percent, or about $3.2 billion.

Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Africa Florizelle Liser pointed out that the important aspect of this growth in trade is the diversification of the products beyond those typical to U.S.-African trade. Among the products being imported are footwear, automobiles, prepared vegetables, processed fruits and cut flowers.

“We know that simply providing market access and duty-free treatment … is not enough,” Liser said. “So we are looking at how do we actually help them to maximize the benefits, and how we can put some very practical steps into place that will in fact do that.”

Walter North, acting USAID administrator for African affairs, said that USAID is committed to expanding capacity-building assistance in Africa.

“We’re working to strengthen the knowledge and skills of sub-Saharan African private-sector enterprises to take advantage of market opportunities,” North said.

With the involvement of participants from the private sector and civil society, the forum will be able to expand on strategies for strengthening trade and investment, Liser said. She pointed out that after several years of declining textile trade, major buyers like Wal-Mart and Target have been increasing their imports of apparel and textile items from Africa.

The 2007 forum will include a session on textiles and apparel, along with concurrent sessions on agribusiness, home décor and wood products and strategies for diversifying the manufacturing sector.

[Download the draft programme on at this link]

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