It was in the year 2000 that the US government created the African Growth and Opportunity Act, AGOA. The act eliminates tariffs on some products from African countries that move toward opening their economies and creating free markets. Tonight we begin a weeklong series on AGOA, by asking whether it has actually made a difference. English to Africa reporter Angel Tabe asked that question to Emily Byers, a senior trade policy analyst at the bread for the World Institute of Washington D-C. “ Trade between the US and Africa has increased tremendously under AGOA. The challenge is to boost exports in agriculture, handicraft, and things that would have an impact on poor people.”
Asked whether this increase in trade jeopardizes aid to Africa, Byers says, they are not related, and aid to Africa goes through different channels. She adds that it is important to note that even though AGOA is a trade program, there needs to be some building of capacity in Africa to produce enough, meet standards, build transportation infrastructure, to get things to market, because as she puts it, “Trade can be a powerful, powerful tool for poverty reduction. Something that could be improved is increased assistance for capacity building as a complement to AGOA.”
Byers revealed that different pieces of legislation have extended AGOA to 2015, since the program is not designed to last forever. She says one provision that allows third world countries to import fabric for the manufacture of apparel for export to the US, expires in 2007. “That is going to have a major impact in several countries where companies have invested, created jobs that are in jeopardy, so that needs to be extended immediately.” She further proposes the development of a textile industry in Africa, “and that will do away with the need to import. It takes time to do, but giving up doesn’t make sense.”
Byers says African governments tend to be very positive about the program. “The general feeling is that AGOA is a step in the right direction, but there is a lot that can be improved about it.” Asked whether China’s business presence in Africa threatens AGOA’s progress, Byers says opinions differ. “On the one hand, apparel from China is cheap and very difficult to compete. On the other, people say we could compete if we have the capacity.” Her bottom-line: “if AGOA is supposed to reduce poverty in Africa, then small farmers need to be at the core of that and unless the trade volume translates into wealth creation, it’s not much good at all.”
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