U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has highlighted the Biden administration's intention to not only renew but also improve the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a pivotal trade program with Africa. AGOA, initially launched in 2000, offers qualifying African countries duty-free access to the U.S. market, the largest consumer market globally. With its expiration slated for September 2025, discussions are currently underway regarding its third reauthorization.
African nations are advocating for an early 10-year extension without modifications to provide stability for businesses and investors.
AGOA enjoys long-standing bipartisan support from U.S. lawmakers who view it as crucial for countering China's influence in Africa. Nevertheless, differing opinions exist on whether updates are necessary.
There is currently a push in the U.S. Senate to swiftly renew AGOA, a move fully endorsed by President Biden.
Secretary Blinken emphasized the administration's commitment not just to extend AGOA but also to collaborate with Congress to enhance the program. He conveyed this message through a video message to U.S. officials and African trade ministers convening in Johannesburg to discuss AGOA's future.
AGOA facilitated duty-free access to the U.S. for over $10 billion worth of African exports last year. However, the U.S. International Trade Commission has identified significant shortcomings, particularly the fact that more than 80% of non-petroleum AGOA exports come from just five countries: South Africa, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, and Ethiopia.
U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, who leads the U.S. delegation, emphasized the opportunity to shape a stronger, forward-looking vision for U.S.-Africa trade during discussions with African ministers.
Judd Devermont, Biden's special assistant on Africa, stressed the urgency of reauthorizing AGOA. Although there are varying views on how to reform the program, the absence of AGOA legislation would pose significant challenges to African economies.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa advocated for an extended AGOA period to incentivize investors to establish factories in African nations.
African governments are also seeking increased flexibility in eligibility criteria and a reduction in the annual review of these criteria.
In October, the Biden administration announced its intention to exclude Gabon, Niger, Uganda, and the Central African Republic from AGOA due to governance and human rights issues. Ugandan Trade Minister Harriet Ntabazi emphasized the need to separate such issues from trade and called for negotiations to address concerns. Uganda's exclusion has been linked to an anti-homosexuality law passed by its parliament.
In summary, the Biden administration's approach to AGOA underscores its significance while recognizing the need for reforms to foster a more equitable and productive trading partnership between the United States and Africa.