The Seventh Forum of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) will convene in Washington from July 14th to the 16th. First enacted into law in 2000, AGOA is the U.S. trade and investment policy that provides trade preferences to designated African countries that are making progress in the areas of economic, legal and human rights.
But critics said AGOA is yet to fulfill its once promising potential.
The theme of this year's AGOA Forum is "Mobilizing Private Investment for Trade and Growth in Africa". Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Todd Moss, said the United States continues to lead in supporting Africa's economic growth through AGOA.
"Under AGOA, eligible countries can export any product to the United States duty-free. Right now that's nearly 6,500 products, from apparel and footwear to fruit. AGOA also provides a framework for technical assistance to help countries take greater advantage of trade preferences. Last year 2007, over 98 percent of US imports from AGOA-eligible countries entered this country duty-free," he said.
Moss said a total of 41 Sub-Saharan African countries are currently eligible to participate in AGOA. He says total trade between the United States and Sub-Saharan Africa rose to more than $81 billion in 2007, with $51 billion of that coming from AGOA imports.
He said even though petroleum products accounted for the largest portion of AGOA imports, non-oil AGOA trade totaled $3.4 billion in 2007, more than doubling the amount in 2001.
Moss said the Forum provides an avenue for active discussion on how to make AGOA more beneficial.
"This event would bring together senior U.S. officials, African government ministers, as well as U.S. and African business and civil society stakeholders to accelerate the exchange of ideas and information critical to AGOA's continued success and indeed to Africa's continued economic success," Moss said.
But critics said AGOA has yet to fulfill its once promising potential. President of the Constituency for Africa Melvin Foote said AGOA has been taken over by big corporations.
"I think AGOA had some promise when it came into being. We really were thinking about African American entrepreneurs, we were thinking about small business, we were thinking about women-own entrepreneurs. We were thinking about business that can match more adequately with entrepreneurs on the continent of Africa. But what has happened basically is business as usual. The larger companies dominated AGOA where it had impact," he said.
Still Foote said one good thing about AGOA is that it has kept the United States and Africa talking every year, which he said has led to other good things for Africa, such as the passage of HIV / AIDS legislation and support for the fight against malaria.
One of the workshops at this year's AGOA Forum will look at why more African agricultural products are not exported to the United States and what can be done to improve that.