Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Johnnie Carson, Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Demetrios Marantis, and Vice President for Compact Implementation for the Millennium Challenge Corporation Patrick C. Fine previewed the 2011 U.S. Africa Trade and Economic Cooperation Forum at the Department of State on June 1. The event, known as the AGOA Forum, will take place in Lusaka, Zambia, on June 9-10.
Ambassador Marantis took the floor first. He said, "The AGOA Forum, as many of you know who have been involved in it before, is an amazing opportunity to gather together U.S. and African senior officials to really take stock of where we're going on our trade and investment relationship.
"As you all know, the U.S.-Africa trade and investment relationship rests on two very important pillars. The first one is AGOA, which has provided incredible access for exporters from Africa to take advantage of the many opportunities in our huge consumer market. AGOA opens up the U.S. markets at 98 percent of Africa's products, and it's -- there have been success story after success story of exporters and the employees that work for those exporters that have been able to take advantage and really build lives on the basis of the opportunities that have been provided under AGOA for products to be used here in the United States."
He continued, "...Another really important provision that we're working on as part of AGOA this summer is to ensure that when South Sudan becomes an independent country that it will be able to be eligible for AGOA benefits. That will require Congress to add South Sudan to the list of AGOA-eligible countries. And so those are two very important things that we hope to do in the course of the next upcoming weeks and months in order to make sure that AGOA works as well as it can and to reaffirm our important commitment to Africa under AGOA.""We also plan to talk to our African counterparts next week about AGOA generally -- what have we learned from the past 11 years of AGOA, what's worked well, what hasn't worked well. And we're going to need to really have an very in-depth and candid conversation as we look towards a seamless renewal of AGOA when it expires in 2015. So that's one pillar of our relationship, our trade and investment relationship with Africa that we will have extensive conversations next week in Lusaka.
"The other pillar, which is as important, is trade capacity building. And AGOA opens the door to the U.S. economy. But with an open door, exporters need help in being able to avail themselves of the opportunities that AGOA provides. That's why trade capacity building is so important. We -- through USAID, we fund four hubs around Sub-Saharan Africa, and these -- trade hubs is what they're called -- are what help African exporters learn how to take advantage of AGOA. They learn how to market their products in the United States, they learn what types of products are most commercially viable in the United States. And through the work of these hubs, we've developed -- have been able to work very closely with various countries throughout the continent to really develop some very interesting and exciting products that have benefited from AGOA."
In conclusion, he said, "...[T]he challenge that we have -- and this is going to be a fundamental element of our discussions next week -- is 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 United States under AGOA.
"So we're really excited about the forum next week. It's an opportunity for Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Kirk to meet with their counterparts. It's an opportunity for me, for Ambassador Carson, for all of the agencies that are going to be there, to work with our counterparts in various -- and our various African partners -- to really see how we can take the trade and investment relationship that we've developed under AGOA to the next level, and that's our goal next week, and we're very excited about it."
After Ambassador Marantis delivered remarks, Assistant Secretary Carson took the floor. He first discussed his recent travels. Assistant Secretary Carson said, "I returned Monday from Nigeria, where I had the honor to lead the presidential delegation to the inauguration of President Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria's new president. That event signified substantial progress in Nigeria's democratic development and a new beginning for the Nigerian people. We in Washington look forward to working with President Jonathan and the people of Nigeria to help them build on the 2011 elections to create a just, strong, and more prosperous future for all of Nigerians.
"I would also like to draw your attention to the current situation in Southern Sudan. The United States condemns the offensive operations being undertaken by the Sudanese Armed Forces in and around Abyei town and the presidential decree dissolving the Abyei administration. The actions being taken by the Government of Sudan are blatant violations of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of January 2005, and they threaten to undermine the mutual commitment of the CPA parties to avoid returning to war. We call on President Bashir and First Vice President Salva Kiir to meet immediately and to agree on a way forward that restores calm, upholds the CPA, and recommits both sides to negotiated political settlements on the future of Abyei."
Assistant Secretary Carson then turned to AGOA. He said, "...AGOA is an important part of the overall engagement of the United States with Africa. We seek to help the nations of Sub-Saharan Africa become important partners in the global economy, and the trade opportunities offered under AGOA provide the means to help that happen. Just as Africa can profit from taking further advantage of AGOA opportunities, stronger economies and markets in Africa offer opportunities for American companies and workers as well.
"In 2010, AGOA-eligible countries exported some $44 billion in products to the United States, although petroleum products continue to account for the largest portion of AGOA imports with some 91 percent of the share of overall AGOA imports. The program has also helped promote new non-traditional and value-added exports from Africa. This includes products such as apparel, footwear, processed agricultural products, and other manufactured goods. Increased trade is one of the fastest ways to expand economic growth, spur development, and reduce poverty across Africa. Building effective regional trade relationships promotes overall economic growth and contribute to increased U.S.-African trade.
"AGOA plays an important role in the Administration's priorities in Africa and helps support regional economic integration and provides incentives for beneficiary countries to improve their overall investment climates, reduce corruption, improve infrastructure, and harmonize trade standards to help them become more competitive in the global marketplace. We strongly support AGOA and look forward to working with African countries to strengthen the AGOA relationship between the United States and Africa."
Finally, Mr. Patrick Fine discussed the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and one of the resources that the U.S. government has for supporting increased trade and investment in Africa with the United States and with other parts of the world. He said, "For those of you who aren't familiar with the MCC, we are a development agency of the U.S. government that focuses on reducing poverty through economic growth, so our focus is very pertinent to the objectives of AGOA. We provide development assistance through a non-traditional approach, and by non-traditional, what I mean is we have a specific focus -- economic growth. We have a selective process where countries have to qualify in order to be eligible for MCC financing. That process is rigorous and it;s done by -- through independent third-party indices. We have -- and that selection process creates very powerful incentives for governments to improve their policy performance, and that -- I'll say a word about that, because that's very important to creating the environment that supports increased trade and investment.
"We put a very strong emphasis on country ownership. So countries are responsible for preparing investment ideas and submitting them to us once they're deemed eligible, and for implementing the programs themselves. That also creates a powerful incentive for good performance in carrying out the programs."
He continued, "...[T]here are two principal ways where MCC serves as a very powerful resource for supporting the objectives of AGOA. One is through the incentives that I mentioned, that create powerful incentives for good policy performance to create the business environments that allow businesses to flourish and allow African countries to provide the kind of environment that attracts private investment so that it can be responsive to the incentives that are created by AGOA for exporting to the U.S.
"An example from Cape Verde, which was the first country we had a compact with, is that their -- Cape Verde is the second or third best performer in terms of business environment in Africa, and much of the reforms that they've undertaken were specifically done to qualify for MCC assistance. So you can see it's a strong influence to getting the kind of environment that supports business activity.
"Aside from the incentives, the way that African countries have chosen to use MCC financing is in large part to invest in infrastructure that supports exporting and supports investment. For example, African nations are using MCC financing to build ports in Benin and in Cape Verde, to build an airport in Mali, to build roads in Tanzania. Those investments provide the basis within the country for business to grow, for products to move, and for the countries themselves to have the capacity to take advantage of the incentives that are provided for under AGOA. It works very well in combination with other parts of the U.S. Government, with our interagency partners, with USAID. Ambassador Marantis mentioned the trade capacity work that USAID has been doing."
In conclusion, he said, "...[W]e're particularly excited about this AGOA being in Zambia, because we're in the process of developing a program with Zambia right now. We expect that program to be finalized within this calendar year, and our CEO, Daniel Yohannes, is going to be going out to the AGOA Forum and he'll be participating there."
A transcript will be posted as soon as it is available.