By Paul Ndiho
August 3, 2010
The annual Africa Growth Opportunity Act forum officially opened in Washington, D.C., this week bringing together more than 600 participants, including senior U.S. and African government officials, as well as members of the private sector and civil society.
Washington grants duty-free status to more than 6-thousand product lines from sub-Saharan Africa under the U-S- African Growth and Opportunity Act of 2000, or AGOA. This year, the Agoa forum is focusing on the ties between private investment and growth and ways in which African countries can take advantage of trade. U.S. Trade representative Ron Kirk says that Africa’s exports to the U.S have more than doubled.
“Agoa has met our expectations in terms of transforming our relationship with Africa from one that had been traditionally just based on the aid, to one that began to build on commercial and economic ties to the mutual benefit of all the 38 Sub-Saharan countries.”

Agoa provides trade preferences to countries that are making economic and political reforms. Agoa reduces barriers to trade, creating jobs. But U.S. exports to Sub-Saharan Africa go primarily to a few countries, and Kenya’s Minister of Trade Amos Kimunya says a lot more needs to be done to realize agoa’s full potential.
“We have 6400 products eligible for export to the U.S under agoa. But sadly, a very limited number is coming through… different countries have various reasons why they are not exporting to the U.S. The bulk of the trade is 90% oil and energy products and 10% constitutes of the other products. We feel that we need to do more.”
In early years, some countries were able to increase substantially textile exports to the United States under agoa. However, African manufacturers have found it increasingly difficult to compete against Indian and Chinese textiles.
African women entrepreneurs are being showcased at this year’s agoa forum in Washington. Susan Muhwezi, is special advisor to the President of Uganda.
“When Agoa first started we trained over 200 women in the apparel sector. We’ve had women in the arts and crafts section, we have created a lot of jobs for the youth especially women and continue to reach out to women.”
There are 38 Sub-Saharan African countries taking advantage of agoa’s trade benefits. Oil accounts for most of what the U.S. buys from Africa, but the Zambian trade minister, Felix Mutati notes that agoa has resulted in some significant strides in the agricultural sector.
“We have significant challenges in the agricultural sector in terms of entry associated with standards and pest control and we are working with the U.S trade office to address those concerns so that we can take advantage of the opportunities that have been given to us.”
Analysts say the U.S. trade with Sub-Saharan Africa decreased 40 percent in 2009 because of the economic downturn. The U.S. African Growth and Opportunity Act is due to expire in 2015, and some African countries would like that deadline extended.

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