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Eighth AGOA forum more important than ever

Published date:
Wednesday, 29 July 2009

US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson and the Kenyan ambassador to the United States, Peter N.R.O. Ogego, formally announced July 23 that the eighth annual U.S.-Sub-Saharan African Trade and Economic Cooperation Forum will be held in Nairobi, Kenya, August 4–6 and could not be taking place at a more opportune time because of the world economic crisis.

The forum is more commonly known as the AGOA Forum, for the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

“In this time of economic crisis,” Carson said, “it is important that the United States and Africa work cooperatively as a major trading partner to protect economic growth, the advances made, and lessen the negative impact of market fluctuations.” Carson said the United States has been working closely with members of civil society and the private sector, who will have sessions at the AGOA Forum, to “ensure that we have captured the concern of all of those who have a commitment to Africa and to expanding African trade and opportunities.”

Briefing the foreign press in Washington, Carson and Ogego were joined by Assistant United States Trade Representative for Africa Florizelle Liser, Deputy Under Secretary of Agriculture for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Burnham “Bud” Philbrook, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Africa, the Middle East and South Asia Holly Vineyard.

Carson said the AGOA Forum is the only annual U.S. ministerial-level meeting with sub-Saharan Africa and as such, it is an opportunity for the United States and African nations to have a dialogue on issues that contribute to long-term development and growth, including good governance and sound economic policies.

Carson said the forum will begin with civil society and private sector events on August 4 and a ministerial meeting will be held August 5 and August 6. Carson, a former U.S. ambassador to Kenya, Zimbabwe and Uganda, praised the government of Kenya for doing a “superb job” in organizing the forum, and he praised African countries across the continent that have contributed to the event.

Forum sessions will address a wide array of issues, he said, such as: ways to deal with the global economic downturn and strategies for business development in Africa; good governance and how it relates to business and economic development; and the importance of fostering greater regional trade integration across Africa.

Ogego told reporters Kenya is “ready and very happy” to host the eighth AGOA Forum and is looking forward to discussing the importance of business development across the region.

According to Kenyan Ambassador Peter N.R.O. Ogego, AGOA has enabled Kenyan farmers to sell baby carrots and baby corn in the U.S. While this helps to create jobs in Kenya, it also provides American consumers with low-cost “specialty vegetables”, which continue to increase in popularity thanks to their distinctive and nutritional traits.

AGOA has enabled Kenyan farmers to sell baby carrots in the U.S., where the popularity of such specialty vegetables is growing.Carson and Ogego both commented on what AGOA, which was first enacted in 2000, has meant.

“From the U.S. perspective,” Carson said, “it has expanded the opportunity for direct trade by opening the U.S. market to a large number of African imports on a duty-free basis [and] it has provided a forum for high-level discussions between Cabinet officials from the United States … [and] their counterparts in Africa.” AGOA has also stimulated discussions between the private sector and civil society groups both in Africa and the United States and has been a “wonderful vehicle to make the kinds of connections that are essential to promote trade and investment.”

Providing the African perspective, Ogego said AGOA “has created access for African products to the overall U.S. market. … We export to the U.S. market baby carrots and baby corn, for instance, which is a direct benefit to our farmers. It also helps us to create jobs … particularly in the export-processing zones,” as well as higher income levels and a platform for interaction.

Philbrook said between 2001 and 2008, agricultural imports from AGOA countries increased by 63 percent. Liser said AGOA has served to promote small business development both in the United States and across sub-Saharan Africa and has allowed the Africans to “add value” by further finishing or refining their products and thus increasing the revenue gained from the sale and export of those products.

Liser said the forum serves as an “important platform” for high-level dialogue looking at ways to increase U.S.-Africa trade and investment flows.

“The opportunity for dialogue that is afforded us by the AGOA Forum is more important than ever as Africa joins the rest of the world in grappling with an economic crisis that touches us all. Global trade is down and U.S.-African trade is also suffering. Total AGOA imports during the first five months of this year, 2009, were about $10.8 billion, but that was down 61 percent compared to the first five months of 2008,” she said. “So this year’s theme, ‘Realizing the Full Potential of AGOA Through Expansion of Trade and Investment,’ takes on a special urgency.”

Philbrook said the U.S. Department of Agriculture ( USDA ) will play an important role in the forum. “Agriculture represents one-third of the gross national product [GNP] of sub-Saharan African countries, and agriculture employs two-thirds of its workers.” Additionally, he said, sub-Saharan African countries play a vital role in food-security issues. Philbrook said USDA is helping African countries meet international standards for the export of fresh agricultural products.

Vineyard, of the U.S. Department of Commerce, said this year’s forum is the first such AGOA event to be held in East Africa. The intent of AGOA, she stressed, is to foster closer economic and trade ties between sub-Saharan Africa and the United States. She said her department will be co-hosting a workshop with Mozambique on the important role intellectual property rights can play in promoting African economic competitiveness, export growth and innovation.

Carson said the United States government is proud of its assistance to sub-Saharan Africa. Last year, the United States provided about $7.5 billion in foreign assistance to the 48 African countries south of the Sahara.

“We have played a role … in partnership with numerous African countries to assist in their development. I would challenge the assumption that Africa is worse off today than it was 10 or 20 or 30 years ago,” Carson said. “The level of global engagement, the level of education, the level of professional standards that exist, the growth of the continent, is a reflection of the progress. Some would argue that it may not be as fast as we all want, both Africans and Americans, but there has, in fact, been a substantial degree of progress, and it is reflected in many indicators.”

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