The annual forum for the Africa Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) between the United States and sub-Saharan African countries took place last week in Zambia.
While the overall outcome of the meetings, attended by Hillary Clinton, was positive, some worrying signs emerged. For example when the US Secretary of State said that it would not be straight forward for the US Congress to approve the renewal of the agreement which is due to expire in 2015.
The theme for this year’s set of meetings was “Enhanced Trade Through Increased Competitiveness, Value Addition and Deeper Regional Integration.” While TOP agrees that greater intra-African trade should be encouraged, there needs to be greater emphasis on the US and other developed nations on setting the example by opening their borders to imports from the least developed counties (LDCs). How can these African countries be expected to implement policies that the US is not willing to adopt themselves?
As President Banda of Zambia made clear, more African agricultural products need to be hitting US supermarket shelves, and there should be more willingness to share knowledge and skills.
Mrs Clinton explained that the criteria African countries would be assessed on to determine whether they would still qualify for the benefits under AGOA have become more complicated and include governance issues relating to human rights, corruption and rule of law. While these issues need to be addressed, they should not be muddled together with trade agreements. African farmers and exporters should not be punished for their government’s failings in other areas.
The US should be leading the way in providing unconditional access to their markets for LDCs, and the sooner they do so, the better.
The theme for this year’s set of meetings was “Enhanced Trade through Increased Competitiveness, Value Addition and Deeper Regional Integration”, but should there be more emphasis on developed nations setting the example by opening their borders to imports from all Least Developed and Low Income Countries?