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US Says AGOA Much More Than Simple Economic Agreement

FILE - U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield testifies on Capitol Hill, Jan. 9, 2014
FILE - U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield testifies on Capitol Hill, Jan. 9, 2014

The African Growth and Opportunities Act is much more than a simple trade agreement, top US officials said this week as they prepare to meet later this month in Gabon for a summit on the US-Africa agreement.

AGOA was recently renewed for 10 years by the U.S. Congress. The act, which was originally signed in 2000, provides 39 sub-Saharan African nations with liberal access to the U.S. market.

But, says Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield, it also allows the U.S. to export many of its intangible values — among them, an open-market system and an emphasis on development, democratization and women’s empowerment.

10 years extension

“We were delighted — I mean, absolutely delighted — with the recent 10-year reauthorization of AGOA,” she said during a briefing this week on the upcoming meeting. “The reauthorization garnered bipartisan support here in the United States, and that’s a clear indication of promoting prosperity, opening markets, and inclusive development and stronger regional integration and good governance on the continent of Africa.”

The 10-year extension — the longest in the program’s history — will also provide more stability for all those involved, said Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Florie Liser.

“Now that we are no longer worrying about AGOA expiring in the near term, the AGOA Forum will provide an opportunity for us to begin a more strategic conversation about the future of our trade and investment relationship with Africa,” she said.

Thomas-Greenfield added that AGOA also has a political element.

“That has been an essential part of AGOA — encouraging countries to respect human rights, encouraging countries to respect press freedoms, and encouraging countries to generally respect the rights of workers. That has been a key part, a key component of AGOA’s success, and it’s something that our African partners, particularly the people, benefit significantly from.”

Possible reviews

With that in mind, she said, the act holds a provision that allows nations’ status to be reviewed if they stray. That’s being considered right now, she said, in the central African nation of Burundi, which has been plunged into turmoil over the president’s decision to run for — and win — a third term, which is beyond his constitutional mandate.

“There is some discussion within the U.S. government of reviewing Burundi,” she said. “We have not reached the point of doing that review yet, but I think it will come sooner rather than later if the situation does not resolve itself very quickly.”

The act has also allowed African nations to move beyond just exporting raw materials, Liser said.

“What we’ve seen actually over the course of the last 15 years of AGOA is that the Africans have been able to triple the amount of non-oil exports that they have sent to the United States,” she said.