(Adds comment from committee chairman)
By Elvina Nawaguna
WASHINGTON, July 29 The Obama administration on
Tuesday pushed for Congress to renew a 14-year-old trade program
giving African countries duty-free access to U.S. markets,
warning that allowing the program to expire would disrupt trade
flows between the two regions.
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said the African
Growth Opportunity Act, or AGOA, which expires on Sept. 30 next
year had both benefited African countries and supported 120,000
Froman's remarks came just days before the White House is
set to host 50 African leaders at a three-day U.S.-Africa summit
aimed at strengthening relations. AGOA, which is at the heart of
U.S.-Africa trade ties, will be a key issue.
Enacted in 2000, AGOA gives about 7,000 products from
sub-Saharan African countries access to U.S. markets free of
import duty. Nearly 40 African countries are eligible to take
"Given that Africa is home to the world's fastest growing
middle class and six out of 10 of the fastest growing economies
in 2014, it's easy to see why companies like General Electric Co
, Caterpillar Inc and Procter & Gamble Co
increasingly view engaging with Africa not as a choice, but as a
necessity," Froman said.
The head of the House Ways and Means trade subcommittee,
Devin Nunes, told reporters Congress could package AGOA renewal
together with fast-track power for trade negotiations, or trade
promotion authority (TPA), and other outstanding trade issues.
"We have so many of these trade issues that are basically
standing behind TPA, we have got to get TPA first," he said.
Exports from sub-Saharan Africa to the United States under
AGOA and other trade preferences totaled $26.8 billion in 2013,
according to USTR data. Most of those exports were petroleum
products; non-oil goods accounted for just $4.9 billion.
"That is still relatively modest and we want to see that
grow," Froman said at an event sponsored by the Brookings
The trade program has been criticized for disproportionately
benefiting certain industries and a handful of countries,
including Nigeria, South Africa and Angola.
Some African leaders have also said their countries lack the
skilled labor and infrastructure to take advantage of it.
Several African countries, for instance, are plagued with poor
roads and shortages of electricity, which leads to power
rationing that interrupts manufacturing.
Froman said the Obama administration plans to address AGOA's
shortcomings and expand access to the program while also holding
eligible countries more accountable. His office wants Congress
to renew the program in advance.
Lawmakers will likely demand overhauls to the program,
including making it more reciprocal so the United States can
enjoy open access to African markets.
"The specific parameters of AGOA, of course, are ultimately
a prerogative of Congress, and we look forward to working with
them to put in place a program that reflects the reality of
Africa's rise," Froman said.
(Additional reporting by Krista Hughes; Editing by Andrew Hay)