Opening Remarks by Ambassador Katherine Tai at the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Ministerial Meeting

WASHINGTON – United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai today chaired the opening session of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Ministerial to discuss expanding trade and investment relations and implementation of the AGOA.

In her opening remarks, Ambassador Tai highlighted the importance of the U.S. – Africa economic relationship in addressing today’s challenges and building a more resilient, sustainable, and inclusive tomorrow.  Ambassador Tai also reiterated the need to work together to fulfill AGOA’s promise for the continent and to pursue equitable growth for all segments of our societies.

Ambassador Tai’s remarks as delivered are below:

Thank you so much, Connie.  And it’s wonderful to see all of my fellow ministers gathered here today in Washington.  Thank you so much for making the journey along with your leaders and enabling us to have this very important conversation about AGOA.

We will start with a roundtable with our Members of Congress, as you can see are seated on the other side of the large tables.

The last time we convened was a little over a year ago, and we did it on a virtual platform.  As with everything in the pandemic times, thank goodness for the digital tools that we have that allowed us to continue to be able to engage with each other.

But I have to tell you that nothing substitutes for person-to-person, real-life exchanges, and I’m so delighted to have this opportunity to gather with all of you, with our Members of Congress, here in Washington today.

As President Clinton said, AGOA was established by our Congress to facilitate economic growth and development throughout the continent, and to fully support Africa’s extraordinary potential.

Twenty-two years after its signing, this is still true, in fact maybe it’s even more true today than it was then.

But we also live in a very different world today, filled with new challenges – from the economic fallout from the COVID pandemic, to fragile supply chains, to the exacerbation of those fragile supply chains by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and a worsening climate crisis.

Amidst these challenges there is also opportunity, and those of us in the room today have an important role to play to seize that opportunity.  Trade can be a tool to overcome these obstacles; to bring more people in; to lift the tide for all and more of our citizens.

President Biden said that “the United States is opening an era of relentless diplomacy to address the challenges that matter most to people’s lives – all people’s lives.”

This relentless engagement extends to trade policy, and the U.S.-Africa economic relationship is at the heart of how the Biden Administration wants to build a more resilient, sustainable, and inclusive tomorrow with our partners.

To realize this vision, we need to conduct an honest assessment of the state of play, to repurpose our trade tools and to align them with our new realities and needs.

Today’s meeting is a critical part of that assessment.

Since its creation, AGOA has served as a core tool to increase investment in Africa and create new jobs across the continent, as President Clinton mentioned, while also driving regional integration and encouraging important governance and humanitarian reforms.

But I’m also interested in discussing today ways in which we can improve AGOA – including how we can increase the utilization rates, particularly among smaller and less-developed countries, as well as ensure that the program’s benefits fully reach all segments of society.

As we discuss the impact, challenges, and prospects for AGOA, let’s work together to unlock the potential of our partnership, to pursue sustainable and equitable growth for all segments of our societies – and ultimately, to unlock the potential of our people, for our people.

I personally witnessed some of this energy and potential firsthand when I had the honor of attending Kenyan President Ruto’s inauguration in September.  It was my first trip to the continent as the U.S. Trade Representative, and I hope to make many more over the course of the next year.

AGOA’s promise as a stepping stone to address regional and global challenges is a compelling reason to gather today and to chart a path to run together in the right direction.

Africa has the world’s youngest population, and its greatest resource is its people, your people – your women, youth, and the budding entrepreneurs and innovators.

The future is Africa, and engaging with this continent is the key to prosperity for all of us.

I look forward to a fruitful discussion, everything from how we get more countries to use AGOA, to how we ensure that underserved groups benefit from this expanded trading opportunity.

We have a lot to discuss today, and I am hopeful and determined to work with you as we chart a path of transforming and modernizing our partnership.

With that, I would like to introduce some of our good friends, in particular my good friends, from the U.S. Congress.  All of these Members of Congress are ones that I have had the honor and the pleasure of working for, and with, and traveling with.

We’ve got Chairman Neil, from the Ways and Means Committee; Ranking Member Brady; Trade Subcommittee Chairman Blumenauer; Mr. Doggett; Ms. Moore; Mr. Kildee; Mr. Evans; Mr. Estes; and Mr. Allred, who serves on the Foreign Affairs Committee and with whom I traveled together to Nairobi in September.

As you all may know, but certainly as I know from my upbringing in trade policy, Congress is USTR’s Constitutional partner on trade policy.  Congress holds the pen on the AGOA legislation and program.  The Members with us today are each champions of furthering U.S. - Africa trade ties, and I’m glad that you were all able to join us today for this very important discussion.

Since AGOA’s birth twenty-two years ago, there has been consistent bipartisan, bicameral support for AGOA.  And I believe that the robust participation as we see here today from our Members of Congress – taking time from their busy schedules at this busy end-of-year period – is testament to the continuing support of our legislators for a close and supportive trade and investment relationship with the continent.

I know that our Members of Congress are opinionated and have a lot that they would like to share with you, so I’d like to open the floor for discussion.  Chairman Neal, I’d like to start with you.  The floor is yours.