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African agricultural exports focus of capacity-building program

Published date:
Friday, 20 July 2007

The Sixth Annual African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Forum was capped July 19 with the announcement by top U.S. government officials of initiatives to strengthen the export-boosting trade measure first passed by Congress in 2000.

A new faculty exchange program will try to build the capacity of agricultural institutions in Africa, a continent overly dependent on oil and gas exports, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a video link with the more than 1,000 officials, businessmen and civil society representatives meeting July 18-19 in Accra.

Forum members who deliberated on how best to optimize AGOA's trade benefits agreed that a more diverse range of exports is needed and that Africa's agricultural sector should be strengthened. Some 6,400 African products are allowed duty-free, quota-free entry into U.S. markets under AGOA, but oil and gas products now account for more than 80 percent of those exports.

"In recent years, we have expanded our cooperation together" with several initiatives meant to help African businesses compete more successfully in the global economy, Rice said. "Now, we are building on those good efforts with a new initiative" aimed at making African agricultural products more competitive.

To do so, "African agricultural products must meet the sanitary requirements of developed countries," Rice told the AGOA audience. "To help you reach this goal, we are instituting a new faculty exchange program to bring some of the best African agricultural specialists to study at American universities," she said.

Beginning in August, the new U.S.-Africa Sanitary-Phytosanitary Capacity Building Program will partner with African scientists and scholars to promote sound agricultural teaching and research techniques.

During the first year of the program, two U.S. universities, Ohio State and Texas A&M, will host seven faculty members from six AGOA countries: Botswana, Ghana, Mauritius, Nigeria, Senegal and Uganda.

The exchange program, along with several expansions of AGOA's favorable trade provisions carried out during the Bush administration, "signifies America's enduring, bipartisan support for Africa's trade and development efforts," Rice said.

"We are here to put agriculture to work for the African economy and people," said Mark Keenum, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) under secretary for the Farm and Foreign Agricultural Service. He also announced four initiatives designed to boost African agricultural exports:

In August, the Namibian Beef Equivalency Training session will help Namibian beef inspectors better understand and implement U.S. meat import standards;

The West African Trade Investment Mission, set for February 2008, will bring 50 businessmen from the United States and 10 African nations to Accra to explore joint investment opportunities;

An educational exchange under USDA's Norman Borlaug Fellowship Program will sponsor seven fellows from six AGOA nations to study cocoa production at several U.S. universities; and

A series of organic certification training workshops will be held throughout sub-Saharan Africa in 2008.

Acting U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Henrietta Fore also announced several infrastructural initiatives including:

Implementation of the $7.7 million, five-year West Africa Seed Alliance (WASA), whose goals include establishing a commercial seed industry that ensures an affordable seed supply for small-scale farmers and creating $50 million in farm revenues for local economies seeking export markets. The project will be carried out in conjunction with private-sector firms like Monsanto and nongovernmental organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Kalangala Infrastructure Services Project in Uganda that will upgrade roads, water supplies, electricity and ferry transport for the residents of Bugala Island in Lake Victoria. The goal is to create 5,000 new jobs while supplying clean water and energy to 50,000 residents, improving their living conditions and making it possible to raise and transport products for export.

A new intellectual property rights assistance agreement signed with the U.S. Department of Commerce to help Africans enforce their intellectual property rights.

"Today's Africa is on the move," the USAID chief said. "Economies are growing and governments are embracing democratic governance and the rule of law. Such changes fuel a free and fair market economy where private-sector businesses are born, expand and thrive."

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