In a gathering set to commence in South Africa, the extension of the U.S. program providing sub-Saharan African nations with duty-free access to American markets is poised to take center stage at the U.S. Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) trade forum. The forum, scheduled for the next three days, will bring together officials including U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Katherine Tai and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Joy Basu to engage with African leaders and officials. Among the key discussions will be the potential extension of AGOA and ways to enhance its benefits for African countries.
This forum follows closely on the heels of U.S. President Joe Biden's announcement of his intention to remove Niger, Uganda, Central African Republic, and Gabon from the list of AGOA beneficiaries due to their failure to meet eligibility criteria. AGOA is U.S. legislation that grants sub-Saharan African countries duty-free access to the U.S. market, contingent upon certain conditions, including adherence to the rule of law and the protection of human rights. It was last extended in 2015 for a 10-year period and is set to expire in September 2025, pending a decision on its possible extension by the U.S. Congress.
Professor John Stremlau, an international relations expert, commented, "We absolutely expect African countries benefiting from AGOA to push for its extension, because they have seen real benefits, even though some have benefitted more than others." AGOA holds particular significance as it enjoys support from both Republican and Democratic quarters, aiming to foster economic development in Africa.
Ebrahim Patel, South Africa's Trade Minister, affirmed the country's intent to advocate for the extension of AGOA, citing significant benefits for South African businesses exporting to the U.S. South Africa ranks among the primary beneficiaries of AGOA, with estimated exports to the U.S. under the act reaching $3 billion in 2022.
In a letter addressed to members of the U.S. Congress, President Biden cited the noncompliance of Niger, Gabon, Central African Republic, and Uganda with AGOA eligibility criteria. He pointed out that Niger and Gabon failed to make substantial progress in upholding political pluralism and the rule of law, while highlighting gross violations of internationally recognized human rights by the Central African Republic and Uganda.
Gabon, in particular, faced suspension of most U.S. financial assistance following a military coup earlier in the year. In May, Biden had threatened to exclude Uganda from AGOA and impose sanctions due to the passage of a controversial anti-gay law, which garnered widespread criticism internationally.
While Uganda's government seemed to downplay the expected impact of its AGOA removal, it's worth noting that AGOA has been seen as a beneficial program by Ugandan officials, including President Yoweri Museveni.
This year, South Africa faced scrutiny regarding its continued participation in AGOA when U.S. lawmakers questioned its eligibility amid allegations of supplying arms to Russia during the conflict with Ukraine. However, an inquiry appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa later cleared South Africa of these allegations. President Ramaphosa is expected to address the AGOA forum on Friday.