TRALAC - Trade Law Centre

African trade forum makes opportunities possible

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Source: USInfo (United States Government)

An African textile designer hoping to sell more apparel and fabrics in the United States may see her dream realized because of a landmark American trade initiative begun in 2000 designed to spur export-led growth in sub-Saharan Africa.

“I send a few things to the U.S.,” says Eva Yebuah owner of Naa Dee Designs, but “my great dream is to expand fabric exports there and acquaint Americans with African fashion.”

In addition to dresses and shirts, Naa Dee Designs also makes cushion covers and table cloths using original designs. “These are all in an Afro-centric style and I think they would be very popular in America,” especially among African Americans, Yebuah said during a business exposition.

Yebuah is one of about 100 exhibitors taking part in an exposition in a large tent next to the Exhibition Hall where the Sixth Annual African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Forum is meeting July 18-19. The businesses -- most of them small textile, food processing and agricultural companies -- want to take advantage of the U.S. duty-free entry provisions for 6,400 products now allowed under AGOA.

Since becoming law in 2000, 38 African nations that have undertaken open-market reforms have become eligible for AGOA benefits.

This year's AGOA Forum, which features ministerial, business and civil society components, is focusing on the theme “As Trade Grows, Africa Prospers: Optimizing the Benefits of AGOA.”

Yebuah is following in the footsteps of market women in West Africa who have traditionally been small traders, and in some countries like Togo they have featured prominently in the clothing and textile trade. Now, in the era of globalization and its free flow of goods, information and people, many of them want to expand their trading horizons. AGOA offers them an avenue.

Increasing textile and apparel exports from Africa has been a particular aim of AGOA’s provisions. Since the law went into effect in 2001, close to 100,000 new jobs in the clothing industry have been created in sub-Saharan nations, many going to poor women, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Florizelle Liser, U.S. trade representative (USTR) for Africa, who is in Accra for the forum, said African apparel exports under AGOA have almost doubled since the trade act went into effect in 2000, increasing from $748 million that year to more than $1.3 billion in 2006.

“One of the things we’ve been delighted about AGOA is that we’ve been able to expand trade with African women-owned businesses," Liser said.

“A lot of the fabric and apparel industry in Africa is run by women, and we are seeing many of them using AGOA to expand their exports while partnering with women and small businesses on the U.S. side.”

Nana Yaa, an executive with Ranyros Ltd., a textile and apparel import-export company, says her firm also seeks to take advantage of AGOA’s entry-free provisions for finished apparel. “We’d like to export uniforms such as nurses' and doctors' gowns as well as bed sheets,” she said.

“We do specialty apparel, and if we could get large orders from U.S. hospitals our firm would grow, we would hire more workers and Ghana’s economy would be strengthened.”

Ghanaian entrepreneur and small manufacturer Harold Otabil spoke enthusiastically as he prepared a cup of his special cocoa powdered drink. Otabil is founder and owner of Hords Ltd., maker of Brown Gold Natural Cocoa Powder.

Otabil said his aim is to use AGOA to give his company an export boost into the health conscious U.S. market. Cocoa, which abounds in West Africa, is “a natural anti-cancer agent,” he said.

Otabil said, “We are the first in West Africa to promote cocoa as a health food and this is the message we want to give our potential American customers."

His company does export abroad to England, but “we really want to enter the U.S. market and this is where we think AGOA can help us.”

The U.S. Agency for International (USAID) Trade Hub in Accra is one of four one-stop information centers located in Africa offering information and advice on AGOA eligibility and benefits as well as general tips on how to enter the U.S. market.

Leah Quin, USAID communications director of the Accra Hub, noted the impressive turnout of exhibitors and their desire to showcase products they hoped Americans would embrace with the help of AGOA.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)