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Remarks by United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk at The Brookings Institution on The African Growth and Opportunity Act

Remarks by U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk

The Brookings Institution
Washington, DC
June 13, 2012

*As Prepared for Delivery*

“Thank you, Mwangi Kimenyi, for the good work that you and your colleagues are doing under the Brookings Institution Africa Growth Initiative. And thanks also to His Excellency Mr. Erastus Mwencha, Deputy Chairperson of the African Union. I know both of you are working with our Africa team at USTR, led by Assistant USTR Florie Liser, to deepen trade and commercial ties between the United States and Africa and to help millions of Africans climb out of poverty into jobs through trade.

“I appreciate this opportunity to participate in Brookings’ special review and evaluation of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which is an important part of President Obama’s comprehensive approach to global development. Just before the G8 Summit at Camp David last month, President Obama welcomed leaders from Ethiopia, Ghana, and Tanzania to Washington as he announced a new partnership to reduce hunger. Speaking to African leaders, the President reiterated his conviction that:

… [T]rue development involves not only delivering aid, but also promoting economic growth – broad-based, inclusive growth that actually helps nations develop and lifts people out of poverty. The whole purpose of development is to create the conditions where assistance is no longer needed, where people have the dignity and the pride of being self-sufficient.

“This week, the United States is honored to host the 12th annual AGOA Forum. As we welcome our African friends and trading partners to Washington, we look forward to productive discussions about the future of AGOA. In keeping with today’s event theme of ‘Looking Back, Looking Forward,’ first I’d like to share a few reflections on the original, bold vision that AGOA’s founders established twelve years ago.

“At a time when Africa’s future was less bright, AGOA predicted that Africa would have enormous economic potential, and that it would be in the United States’ national interest to help African countries use trade as an engine for Africa’s economic growth. Today, reports by the African Development Bank, World Bank, and other prominent economic institutions highlight Africa’s substantial growth and rising position in the global economy. Over the past twelve years, AGOA has made an enormous difference for millions of Africans and truly transformed the way the United States and Africa interact on trade and economic issues. Non-oil trade from Africa to the United States has more than tripled under AGOA – reaching $5 billion in 2011. At the same time, U.S. exports to sub-Saharan Africa have more than tripled under AGOA, as Africans have sought more and more U.S. inputs, expertise, and joint-venture partnerships. These trade figures have translated into good jobs and higher incomes for both American and African workers, demonstrating that increased U.S. trade with Africa is having a tangible impact on both sides of the Atlantic.

“But to be sure, the developmental premise of AGOA remains strong. By providing new market opportunities for African exports, especially of non-traditional and value-added products, AGOA has helped African firms become more competitive internationally. Similarly, AGOA has also provided incentives and support for African economic reforms, which have helped foster an improved business environment in many African countries that has attracted investment and supported increased U.S. exports. And AGOA has not only encouraged African leaders to strengthen trade relations with the United States, but also to develop and implement African-led solutions to the region’s economic and political challenges. These are just some of the many benefits we’ve seen from AGOA so far.

“Over the years, we’ve also learned about the challenges that some African countries face as they seek to expand and diversify their trade. For example, there are many challenges related to infrastructure, transportation, regulatory obstacles, and the business environment. In particular, we’ve learned how important trade capacity building assistance can be to help African governments and firms identify and develop the market opportunities available under AGOA.

“That’s why last year I announced at the AGOA Forum in Zambia, the United States is committing up to $120 million for the African Competitiveness and Trade Expansion Initiative (ACTE), which funds Regional Trade Hubs in Ghana, Botswana, and Kenya. We are already seeing strong results, as these Trade Hubs have provided critical assistance to many African businesses that had never previously considered the U.S. market. With help from our Trade Hubs, African entrepreneurs are now attending trade shows and getting orders for everything from Mauritian seafood to Zambian hot sauce, from Ethiopian footwear and Ghanaian socks to Swazi jams and jellies.

“Another priority I announced at the AGOA Forum last year was the Obama Administration’s commitment to renewing AGOA’s third-country fabric provision, which sustains jobs for thousands of low-income women in Africa and is currently set to expire at the end of September. Since then, my Administration colleagues and I have strongly and repeatedly urged Congress to extend this provision. We understand how crucial the third-country fabric provision is for the continued survival of Africa’s textile and apparel sector, and how important it is to AGOA’s continued performance, effectiveness, and success. I have also heard from many folks – not just my colleagues at the State Department, but also African leaders, ambassadors, and apparel manufacturers, as well as U.S. buyers and retailers – who are frustrated by Congress’ delay in renewing this vital measure. We share your sentiments, and I can assure you that the President intends to sign appropriate legislation renewing the AGOA third-country fabric provision as soon as Congress sends it to his desk.

“Finally, some of you may recall I also announced last year that the Administration is seeking to define and achieve a seamless renewal of AGOA beyond 2015. This will be an important topic for our AGOA Forum conversations here in Washington this week. Extending AGOA will help continue long-term trends in Africa toward greater shared prosperity and increased opportunities for all.

“In fact, I look forward to seeing more of AGOA in action first-hand when I visit West Africa next month. My trip will complement our conversations here at the AGOA Forum this week and inform the Administration’s sustained efforts to advance a seamless renewal of AGOA beyond 2015. Similarly, I look forward to today’s conversation, as civil society stakeholders provide one of the three main pillars of support for AGOA, along with policy makers and private sector leaders. Together, we can realize AGOA’s full promise of a brighter, more prosperous future for Africa in partnership with the United States. Thank you.”