US looks be­yond AGOA

Lesotho Times - - Business -

THE year af­ter Pres­i­dent Barack Obama ex­tended African na­tions’ pref­er­en­tial ac­cess to US mar­kets by a decade, his ad­min­is­tra­tion is re-eval­u­at­ing its trade re­la­tions with the world’s poor­est con­ti­nent.

“It’s time to start look­ing at what comes next,” US Trade Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Michael Fro­man said in an in­ter­view in Ki­gali, Rwanda’s cap­i­tal, where the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum was hold­ing its an­nual Africa sum­mit.

“Part of what mo­ti­vates us is that we are hear­ing from Africans that they want to move to­wards a more per­ma­nent, re­cip­ro­cal kind of re­la­tion­ship.”

Un­der the African Growth and Op­por­tu­nity Act (AGOA), which was first adopted in 2000, the US elim­i­nated im­port levies on more than 7,000 prod­ucts from Africa, rang­ing from tex­tiles to man­u­fac­tured items. The ac­cord was re­newed in June for 10 years, ben­e­fit­ing 39 na­tions.

Trade re­la­tions needed to evolve be­cause African economies had be­come more in­te­grated and changed con­sid­er­ably in terms of their de­mo­graphic make-up, growth, lev­els of de­vel­op­ment and the spread of tech­nol­ogy since AGOA came into ef­fect ini­tially, Mr Fro­man said.

The US is con­sult­ing African of­fi­cials, busi­ness lead­ers and re­gional ex­perts on what should hap­pen next.

“Even though AGOA it­self doesn’t ex­pire for 10 years, these kinds of agree­ments or re­la­tion- ships take awhile to ne­go­ti­ate and im­ple­ment. We don’t want coun­tries to be left in the lurch by sud­denly los­ing pref­er­ences and not hav­ing put in place the nec­es­sary on­go­ing re­la­tion­ships.” Choices avail­able Op­tions in­clude con­clud­ing bi­lat­eral treaties or full free-trade agree­ments.

“We come into this very much with an open mind,” Mr Fro­man

said.

“Some coun­tries may be both will­ing and able to move faster than oth­ers. There may not be a sin­gle ap­proach for ev­ery coun­try and ev­ery re­gion.”

Sub-sa­ha­ran Africa ac­counted for just 1% of US trade last year, with the re­gion still con­strained by power short­ages and poor trans­port in­fra­struc­ture.

“We have to work on the struc­tural is­sues,” Mr Fro­man said. “What­ever we do, we want to do it in a way that ideally sup­ports the pol­icy pri­or­i­ties in Africa”, in­clud­ing re­gional in­te­gra­tion and lo­cal man­u­fac­tur­ing. — Bloomberg

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