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Washington, D.C. – Ambassador Ron Kirk spoke at the opening ceremony today of the Ninth U.S.-Sub-Saharan Africa Trade and Economic Cooperation Forum, better known as “the AGOA Forum.” In attendance were cabinet ministers and senior officials from the 38 sub-Saharan African countries that benefit from the African Growth and Opportunity (AGOA) trade preference program, as well as representatives of African regional economic communities, the American and African private sector, and civil society. The ministerial portion of the event is being held in Washington, D.C. from August 2-3. A separate session focused on the private sector and opportunities for U.S.-African trade in the agribusiness sector, is being held in Kansas City, Missouri from August 4-6.
During his remarks, Ambassador Kirk observed that AGOA has helped support African economic development by opening the U.S. market to a greater diversity of African products, including value-added and processed goods. “President Obama and this Administration are committed to a partnership with Africa that is commensurate with Africa’s vital and growing role in the global community, and that reflects past, present, and future ties between African nations and the United States,” said Ambassador Kirk. “The progress and potential of African economies are reflected in reduced inflation, lowered trade barriers, growing intra-African trade, rising foreign capital flows into Africa, and the creation of substantial new business opportunities.”
Ambassador Kirk also co-chaired a plenary session with Zambian Minister of Commerce, Trade, and Industry Felix Mutati on the topic “New Strategies for Expanding U.S.-Sub-Saharan African Trade,” and will be holding a roundtable with African trade ministers to discuss the full spectrum of U.S.-African trade issues. As well, Ambassador Kirk held a roundtable discussion with reporters to discuss AGOA and U.S. Investment in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis also participated in the AGOA Forum. He held a roundtable discussion with African Union Deputy Chairperson Erastus Mwencha and the heads of several African regional economic organizations to discuss ways to further advance economic integration in sub-Saharan Africa.
USTR Chief Agricultural Negotiator Islam Siddiqui will attend the Kansas City segment of the AGOA Forum, where he will meet with African ministers to discuss issues related to U.S.-African agricultural trade, including the World Trade Organization’s Doha Round negotiations.
Congress passed the African Growth and Opportunity Act legislation in 2000. President Clinton subsequently signed the AGOA bill into law on May 18, 2000. Since then, three successive administrations, including the Obama Administration, have actively implemented AGOA, working closely with African partners and other stakeholders to help them make the most of the program.
AGOA builds on the existing Generalized System of Preferences program to allow eligible sub-Saharan African countries to export almost any product to the United States duty-free (nearly 6,500 tariff lines), with a special focus on value-added and non-traditional products such as apparel, footwear, and processed agricultural goods. Since AGOA’s enactment, U.S. non-oil imports from sub-Saharan Africa under AGOA have more than doubled, reaching $3.4 billion in 2009. Among the sectors that have experienced sizable increases under AGOA are apparel, footwear, vehicles, fruits and nuts, prepared vegetables, leather products, cut flowers, prepared seafood, and essential oils.
AGOA requires the President to determine annually whether sub-Saharan African countries are eligible for benefits under AGOA based on their progress in meeting certain criteria set out in the Act, including progress toward implementing economic reforms, establishing the rule of law, reducing poverty, and strengthening labor and human rights. There are currently 38 sub-Saharan African countries eligible for AGOA.
AGOA also institutionalized an annual, high-level dialogue between officials of the United States and AGOA beneficiary countries: the AGOA Forum. This year’s AGOA Forum is the ninth. In 2009, the AGOA Forum was held in Nairobi, Kenya. The AGOA Forum brings together Cabinet-level officials from the United States and AGOA beneficiary countries, along with representatives of the African and American private sector and non-governmental organizations, to discuss issues related to U.S.-sub-Saharan African trade and economic cooperation.
The United States has provided substantial trade capacity building assistance to African governments and firms to help them utilize AGOA trade preferences. Much of this assistance is carried out by experts at four regional competitiveness hubs, managed by USAID, that work with African governments and businesses to identify and develop AGOA trade opportunities. The United States provided $733 million in trade capacity building activities in sub-Saharan Africa in FY2009, and over $3.3 billion cumulatively since FY2001. These sums include trade-related assistance provided under Millennium Challenge Corporation compacts with African countries.