African-US trade talks get underway in Mauritius

Trade ministers from across Africa and a large delegation led by their counterparts from the United States are meeting in Mauritius this week to discuss a law key to trade and development relations between the world’s richest country and its poorest continent.

The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) was passed in 2000, during the administration of then president Bill Clinton. Under the law, African countries that abide by specified market liberalisation rules have the right to duty and quota-free access to the US market for a range of goods until 2008.

It is expressly designed as an incentive to African countries to open their economies and build free markets: in short, it is meant to serve as Africa’s gateway to a globalised world. Some 38 African countries are currently eligible for the AGOA programme, which also has provisions for technical assistance to these countries.

Since AGOA came into force, non-fuel US imports from Africa have risen by 50%, according to US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick.

In the first seven months of 2001, African apparel exports topped $100-million, a 20% increase over the previous year.

US imports from Africa rose from just over $14-billion in 1999 to $21,3-billion in 2001. Countries which have done particularly well out of AGOA include South Africa, where automobile exports have increased 16 times over the last two years; Lesotho, where 11 new factories have opened and 15 000 new jobs been created; and Kenya, where textile exports rose from $45-million in 2000 to $71-million in 2001 and to $100-million in the first nine months of 2002.

More than 150 000 jobs have been created, directly and indirectly, in Kenya’s garment industry. It is widely accepted that AGOA’s full potential can only be realised if Africa sees a considerable boost in foreign direct investment and technical assistance in upgrading its manufacturing sector. – Sapa-AFP

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