US, Africans prepare for Agoa ministerial forum in Zambia

2011-06-02 11:08

Washington – US officials said yesterday that they would meet African ministers next week in Zambia to try to boost and diversify African exports to the US under an 11-year-old preferential trade deal.

Both US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Trade Representative Ron Kirk will visit Zambia’s capital, Lusaka, on June 10 for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) Ministerial Forum, officials said.

Kirk’s deputy, Demetrios Marantis, said Agoa participants will have to “have a very in-depth and candid conversation” about what helps and hurts exports “as we look towards a seamless renewal of Agoa when it expires in 2015”.

Agoa, signed into law in 2000 by then US president Bill Clinton, gives African exports duty-free status on the US market.

“One of the challenges of Agoa is that it’s not used as much as I think either Africa would like or we would like,” Marantis told reporters.

The Lusaka forum, he said, will focus on “how can we work together bilaterally with our African partners as well as regionally through the regional economic communities to help increase the diversification of what Africa sends to the US under Agoa”.

Johnnie Carson, the US assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said petroleum products still account for the lion’s share of Agoa exports to the US, with the figure at 91% of the total.

However, he said the Agoa programme has boosted exports of “new non-traditional and value-added exports” from Africa, such as apparel, footwear, processed agricultural products and other manufactured goods.

“In 2010, Agoa-eligible countries exported some $44 billion (R299 billion) in products to the US,” he said.

“Despite its large petroleum exports and mineral exports, Africa today still accounts for only about 1.5% of global trade,” Carson said.

“We see Africa in the years to come as an economic powerhouse very much the way we have seen Latin America transformed as well,” he added.

“Our desire is to ensure that Africa can in fact grow economically. If it grows economically, it is also going to produce greater stability for Africa,” he added.

Marantis said US officials will next week also discuss US efforts to renew for three years an Agoa provision that allows many African countries to use fabric from third countries in apparel exports to the US.

The provision expires in 2012.

“We are committed to working with Congress to getting that renewed as quickly as possible and hope to do so as early as this summer,” Marantis said.

He said President Barack Obama’s administration will also urge Congress to add south Sudan to the list of Agoa-eligible countries after it becomes an independent country in July.

He said US officials are also working on projects to help Africans market their products better in the US.

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