Johannesburg, South Africa, held the annual African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Forum from November 2nd to 4th, focusing on discussions surrounding the United States’ premier trade initiative with the African continent.
A Deep Dive into AGOA
Initially enacted in 2000 during former President Bill Clinton’s tenure, AGOA aims to reinforce trade links with Sub-Saharan Africa, assisting nations across the continent in bolstering their economies.
AGOA grants eligible African countries the privilege to export most of their agricultural and manufactured goods to the U.S. market without paying duties. With its benefits, including duty-free entry to the U.S. market for many agricultural and manufactured goods, AGOA stands as a testament to collaborative economic growth.
Eligibility for this program is fluid, hinging on several factors, including adherence to economic policy frameworks and human rights records.
The mutual advantages of AGOA are significant, with roughly 35 African nations currently qualified to participate.
The initiative not only promotes job creation and export growth in African countries but also serves as a strategic element of U.S. foreign policy by fostering economic allies and deterring influences from global competitors such as China.
U.S. Delegation’s Mission
A high-level delegation from the U.S. touched down in Johannesburg to engage in critical dialogues about AGOA’s strategic impact.
The Biden-Harris Administration expressed an urgent call for the reauthorization and revamping of AGOA, with U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Katherine Tai at the forefront of the discussions.
Ambassador Tai’s delegation consists of a diverse group of influential figures, including Assistant USTR for African Affairs Constance Hamilton, Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves, and representatives from key U.S. agencies. They are joined by the Department of State, including Assistant Secretary Ramin Toloui, to fortify trade and economic discourse with their African counterparts.
Don Graves on U.S.-Africa Economic Relations
On Friday, during a virtual media briefing, Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves reviewed the outcomes of the AGOA Forum 2023, underscoring the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to strengthening economic relations with Africa.
Graves announced the closure of 75 new commercial trade deals between the U.S. and African nations, totaling an estimated $5.7 billion, in two-way trade and investment.
This achievement, according to Graves, reflects the administration’s dedication to fostering substantial economic engagement as a top priority.
The deputy secretary emphasized the strategic intent of his department is to enhance economic prospects for businesses, labor forces, and communities across the Atlantic.
“The goals of that strategy are clear,” Graves declared. “We aim to strengthen and expand bilateral relationships across the continent, particularly democracies, through MoUs and commercial and investment dialogues.”
Addressing Africa’s digital growth, Graves highlighted the U.S. role in aiding the continent’s technological advancements, providing technical assistance, and fostering a conducive commercial environment via the Commercial Law Development Program and the expertise of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
He said, “Our strategy is comprehensive, and we’re going to make inroads – major inroads – in driving our shared economic success.”
At the 20th AGOA Forum, he emphasized the importance of building digital infrastructure to unlock the full potential of technology in trade and connectivity.
He advocated for trade policies that promote regional integration and benefit all, particularly workers, in the post-pandemic economic rebuild.
In response to a question about whether the U.S. views AGOA as a counter to China’s influence in Sub-Saharan Africa, Graves clarified that the focus remains on U.S. partnerships and the joint efforts to enhance investment and business opportunities with African nations and overcoming barriers to aid the growth of African business partnerships.
Confronted with another question regarding U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Reuben E. Brigety’s comments on South Africa’s alleged arms supplies to Russia, Graves redirected the focus to the positive aspects of the U.S.-Africa relationship.
He reiterated the United States’ profound commitment to ensuring the African continent can develop a stable and enduring economy, promoting a dignified life for Africans and Americans.
A Future Built on Partnership and Innovation
Reflecting on the enduring success of AGOA, Graves highlighted the imperative for innovative approaches to extend its legacy. With the Commerce Department spearheading a comprehensive Africa strategy, the U.S. aims to enhance the investment climate, promote trade, and catalyze innovation and skills development across the continent.
The Deputy Secretary remarked, “I believe that the U.S.-Africa commercial relationship is at a tipping point with the potential to meaningfully help drive Africa’s sustainable growth and also shape a more inclusive global economy for years to come.”
Graves unveiled initiatives to connect U.S. businesses, including women and Diaspora-owned enterprises, with opportunities in South Africa.
He also pointed to the alignment with the President’s Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa and the expansion of the U.S. Commercial Service’s presence as pivotal steps towards realizing this vision.
As the AGOA Forum progressed, Graves encouraged participants to engage and apply the insights actively garnered to inform their future business strategies, echoing a sentiment of collective ambition for a thriving, inclusive global economy.
AGOA Forum’s Impact: Economic Milestones and Job Creation
Reflecting on the tangible impacts of the AGOA initiative, South Africa emerged as the largest exporter under the agreement in 2021, amassing approximately $2.7 billion in revenue.
This substantial economic gain was largely driven by the sale of vehicles, jewelry, and metals.
Trailing behind, Nigeria secured the second spot with its revenues exceeding $1.4 billion, primarily through oil exports.
Kenya, in third place, marked its economic footprint with around $523 million in revenues, as per the data from the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) and the U.S. Department of Commerce.
The list of beneficiaries extends further, with nations like Eswatini, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Malawi, and Mauritius experiencing a significant surge in their exports to the U.S.
The ripple effect of these increased trade activities has been the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs across the African continent.