In a bipartisan effort to support trade relations between the United States and Africa, Democratic Senator Chris Coons has called for a 16-year extension of a trade program that grants qualifying African nations duty-free access to the U.S. market. Senator Coons, a prominent advocate for U.S.-Africa policy, believes that extending the program is vital for fostering economic growth and cooperation.
The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a two-decade-old trade agreement, is currently set to expire in 2025. African nations are seeking a 10-year renewal ahead of the 2024 U.S. election. The Biden administration is also in favor of reauthorizing the program but has proposed specific reforms.
Senator Coons, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has introduced a bill that aims to merge AGOA with the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, encompassing most African countries.
A draft version of the bill, exclusively obtained by Reuters, suggests that the program would retain its benefits for countries even as they grow wealthier, allowing them to remain eligible until they are considered high-income for five consecutive years, rather than disqualifying them after a single year.
Senator Coons stated, "My AGOA Renewal Act would extend this program, incentivizing investments that will create jobs, bolster economic development, and strengthen our standing in the region."
Ben Cardin, the committee's chairman, supports reauthorizing the program but suggests adjustments to the eligibility criteria.
James Risch, the committee's ranking Republican, expressed his support for the early reauthorization of AGOA but emphasized the need for changes in eligibility criteria and other modifications.
In 2022, over $10 billion worth of African exports entered the United States duty-free through AGOA. The program enjoys bipartisan backing in Washington, although there are varying opinions on how to update it.
U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai stated that AGOA should aim to increase the program's utilization by eligible countries, although she did not provide specific details on how this would be achieved.
American business groups have emphasized the importance of providing certainty regarding AGOA to allow African nations to capitalize on the global push to reduce dependence on Chinese manufacturing. The discussions around AGOA's renewal and potential reforms highlight the significance of U.S.-Africa trade relations for economic development and international cooperation.