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US Looking for Ways to Improve AGOA at Upcoming Forum

The U.S. will look for ways to improve the African Growth and Opportunity Act at the 20th AGOA forum in Johannesburg next weekend, two high-level trade policymakers said during a Oct. 26 press briefing.

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"We have to do better," said Constance Hamilton, assistant U.S. trade representative for Africa. She noted that one conclusion from the International Trade Commission's April study on AGOA implementation is that AGOA hasn't met the expectations from when it was enacted in 2000. "Some countries have benefitted greatly from AGOA, but the majority have not and so we know that we still have a lot of work to do."

"The question I think that’s going to drive the conversation at the AGOA ... is how do we improve on this program," said Joy Basu, deputy assistant secretary for African Affairs at the State Department.

Basu stressed the importance of hearing from the ministers, private sector and civil society about what can be done to make the program more impactful, but she noted that Congress "holds the pen on AGOA 100%," and they are the ones who will make changes if the law is going to be revised. "Congress writes the laws, and so we are here to support them however they need as they consider that choice," but "timely authorization of AGOA is a goal of the administration."

Hamilton said that if Congress starts to tweak the language, there are concerns that the process may drag out and the program "might actually expire."

Basu also said "very few countries are actually taking advantage of AGOA" and very few of the available sectors are actually being used. "Until countries have more things to actually produce in trade it is hard to make the most of AGOA," she said. AGOA is "at its core, a development program, and trade is an important element of that," she said, but a continuing challenge is how to spur development in order to take advantage of opportunities built into the program.

Hamilton addressed the issue of regional integration of North Africa into AGOA. Given the importance of the African Continental Free Trade Area, Hamilton said the U.S. should think about how it can integrate North Africa into the supply chains and the value chains in Sub-Saharan Africa. Basu said that the State Department is "very supportive of the AfCFTA" and hopes that "AGOA can be complementary to it."

In responding to concerns about what a potential U.S.-Kenya trade agreement might mean for AGOA, Hamilton said bilateral FTAs would "not replace AGOA at this point." She said she was happy that Kenya wants to take this new step with the U.S., but emphasized that it did not mean "graduating Kenya out of AGOA." She did say that the Kenya agreement could be a model for other countries, but the U.S. would want to be sure the agreement proved effective before replicating it with another country.

When asked, Hamilton said the issue of Ethiopia’s AGOA eligibility wouldn't likely be addressed during the forum.