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AGOA Forum to focus on expanded trade, economic growth

Published date:
Wednesday, 02 July 2008

When government leaders from sub-Saharan Africa meet in Washington July 14-16 at an annual economic forum, the focus will be on mobilizing private investment to expand trade and growth across the continent, say senior U.S. officials.

"The pace of economic growth and development in Africa is of paramount concern to the United States and the international community," said Todd Moss, deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs. "The future of sub-Saharan Africa continues to look brighter, as we're seeing a growing number of countries begin to reap the benefits of sound economic policy changes, improved governance and new investments in key sectors undertaken over the last decade."

In 2000 the United States took a bold step in seeking to help sub-Saharan Africa with enactment of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which seeks to provide the most liberal access to the U.S. market available to any country or region in sub-Saharan Africa where there is no free-trade agreement, Moss said.

Currently, 41 nations have been designated as eligible for the benefits of AGOA. The most recent additions are Togo and the Union of Comoros, Moss said at a Washington Foreign Press Center briefing July 1.

As part of the AGOA legislation, there is an annual meeting between the United States and African nations known as the AGOA Forum. The upcoming forum is the seventh such event. Its theme focuses on encouraging private investment that will help expand trade and economic growth for the AGOA countries, Moss said.

"Under AGOA, eligible countries can export almost any product to the United States duty-free. Right now, that's nearly 6,500 products, from apparel to automobiles and footwear to fruit," Moss said. "AGOA also provides a framework for technical assistance to help countries take greater advantage of trade preferences."

In 2007, more than 98 percent of U.S. imports from AGOA countries entered duty-free, which gave them a considerable market advantage over similar products from other nations. Total trade between the United States and sub-Saharan Africa has grown to more than $81 billion in the last year.

Moss said that since 2001, non-oil AGOA imports into the United States have nearly tripled.

Andrew Baukol, deputy assistant treasury secretary for Africa and the Middle East, said expanding private investment is critical in Africa. In the last seven years private capital flows into sub-Saharan Africa increased about five times, totaling more than $50 billion last year.

"Africa has enjoyed a very rapidly growing economy in the last few years. We aim to try to help cement the gains in this progress, even in the face of some global pressures that might help detract from growth in the near term," Baukol said.

The Treasury Department has almost 20 technical advisers in Africa full time, helping African countries develop banking systems and budget processes.

Moss said AGOA was intended to provide opportunities for trade by providing market access, an essential element in boosting economic growth. "I don't think that AGOA was ever intended to be all-encompassing," he said.

What the United States is now seeing is interest from global investors in looking at Africa, and particularly at African infrastructure, he said.

"One of the main restraints on greater trade is African infrastructure," Moss said.

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