You no longer need to board an international flight to take advantage of the excellent products African businesses have to offer. Just visit your local grocery store to sample specialty BBQ sauce from Kenya. Dried tropical fruit from Ugandan fair trade producers is just a click away from an online retailer. And wine from a women-owned South African business can now be purchased at a major superstore in the United States.
These and many other quality African goods are entering the U.S. market thanks to the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). AGOA allows qualified African countries to export thousands of products to the United States duty-free.
AGOA has done much more than bring African foods, leather products, handicrafts, and other goods to American consumers. The program is also supporting African countries’ economic development. Since AGOA began in 2001, it has spurred the creation of an estimated 300,000 jobs on the continent. Many of these new jobs have gone to African women.
AGOA is not just an opportunity for African nations to export to the United States duty free; it has also helped Africa attract more foreign investment. AGOA encouraged the establishment of an apparel factory in Ghana, for example, a joint venture between U.S. and Pakistani companies. The company manufactures medical scrubs and lab coats for sale in the U.S. market, and it has provided employment for over 500 Ghanaian women.
AGOA also comes with a seal of approval that supports reformers in member countries, and acts as an incentive to those who are not members to improve. To qualify, countries must meet several criteria, showing progress on promoting the rule of law, combating corruption, and upholding internationally recognized worker rights. Today, 40 sub-Saharan African countries are eligible to take advantage of AGOA benefits.
In June, President Obama issued a proclamation to welcome Madagascar back into the AGOA family, in recognition of the nation’s return to democratic rule. The country had been removed from AGOA in 2010 following a coup d’état. Part of AGOA’s success has been to encourage countries like Madagascar to undertake political and economic reforms. These governance reforms -- while often challenging -- are needed in their own right but also to make countries more attractive investment destinations and to help local businesses thrive.
With some of the fastest-growing economies in the world, an emerging middle class, and increasing levels of foreign investment, sub-Saharan Africa is showing great promise. The United States has been a longstanding partner with Africa, supporting local efforts to achieve prosperity and peace. AGOA has been an important tool in our engagement to help Africans realize the broad-based prosperity that they need and deserve.
On August 4, the U.S. Government will host the annual AGOA Ministerial meeting with African Trade Ministers. This event will be a chance to celebrate AGOA’s successes and also to reflect on ways to modernize and strengthen the program. We are committed to working with the U.S. Congress to seamlessly renew the AGOA program before it expires in September 2015.
About the Author: Nicole Johnson serves as a Senior Trade and Investment Officer in the Bureau of African Affairs.