Since World War II, U.S. trade policy has emphasized lowering trade barriers and creating an enabling environment for trade. We have long recognized that trade is a critical engine for economic growth, which helps drive and shape the United States’ economic engagement with Africa. For years, the United States has employed a range of tools to enhance and diversify the U.S.-Africa trade and investment relationship. For instance, we have enacted trade preference programs such as the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), and trade capacity building initiatives like U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) regional trade and investment hubs that help African entrepreneurs take advantage of preferential access to the large U.S. market.
The African Growth and Opportunity Act, or AGOA, has been the centerpiece of the U.S. trade relationship with Africa since 2000, providing duty-free status to virtually all imports from sub-Saharan Africa, along with liberal rules of origin. As with the United States’ other preference programs, the U.S. Congress requires that Africans meet AGOA’s eligibility criteria to foster sound policies within the countries. AGOA was extended for 10 years in June 2015, the longest extension in its history, and thus, provides certainty for African producers, U.S. buyers, and investors interested in growing African value-added manufacturing.
In addition to encouraging our African partners to take full advantage of AGOA, we are advising them to begin to look beyond AGOA to further deepen and diversify the U.S.-Africa trade and investment relationship. We are in the midst of an exciting and interesting time for the global trading system. Both Africa and the global economy have changed dramatically since AGOA was first enacted more than 15 years ago, and the power of tariff preferences alone to provide a developing country with a competitive advantage is not what it used to be. African countries risk falling behind other regions if they do not address the other components of competitiveness or embrace open trade and investment relationships, both with their regional neighbors and beyond.
This is why we at USTR recently unveiled our “Beyond AGOA” report, highlighting the next steps for different African countries to consider taking. The most recent extension of AGOA could well be its last, and the remaining eight and a half years will go by fast. As such, we want to accomplish two things: first, to see Africans develop and implement AGOA utilization strategies; and second, to begin discussions now with our African trade partners on what our trade and investment relationships beyond AGOA should look like. Meanwhile, we are taking advantage of every opportunity to engage with African officials and other stakeholders to advance that conversation and ensure that they, too, are thinking about what comes next and how we can work together to our mutual benefit.
At our AGOA Forum this year in Washington D.C., many African women in leadership positions were in attendance – some Ministers, others entrepreneurs, and yet others who are young future leaders. They participated in multiple high-level discussions with government officials and private sector executives from both continents. In addition, we hosted representatives from the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program and the Young African Leaders Initiative Network (YALI). The United States is actively cooperating with young leaders, including many women, as well as numerous women entrepreneurs in Africa to ensure that the advancement of the U.S.-Africa trade and investment partnership goes hand-in-hand with empowering women and youth across the continent.
To witness the program in action, I recently traveled to Madagascar, Mozambique, and Lesotho to experience the impact of AGOA on everyday working people. I toured factories where thousands of workers—predominately women—were producing a wide-range of AGOA-eligible products to be shipped to the U.S. duty-free under AGOA. These jobs, and hundreds of thousands of others created by AGOA, empower men and women to earn a living and provide for their families, while supporting sustainable growth and economic well-being in many countries across the continent. In addition, AGOA has served as a useful tool for supporting human rights, women’s rights, and worker rights, and addressing issues like child labor, corruption, and poverty, to create an environment more conducive to trade and investment.
The enabling environment AGOA supports, alongside trade capacity building programs, investment in African infrastructure, including more than $7.9 billion MCC compacts in 20 African countries, and a range of other U.S. Government initiatives like Power Africa and Trade Africa that address Africa’s supply side constraints, helps African nations increase regional and global trade and integrate into regional and global supply chains. In 2015, non-oil AGOA exports to the U.S. totaled $4.1 billion – more than three times the amount of non-oil trade in 2001; and exports have risen significantly in automobiles, apparel, footwear, prepared fruits, vegetables, and nuts, cocoa powder and paste, and cut flowers. We remain impressed with the growth and positive change we have seen from AGOA, but it is important to start looking towards the future and new possibilities for the continent.
The United States is committed to our economic partnership with Africa, and firmly supports the advancement of our mutual trade and investment interests – both under AGOA and beyond. We will continue to elevate and cooperate with the countless African men, women, and youths working in trade in the United States and Africa to achieve those goals. This is the start of an important conversation, in which policymakers on both continents must engage with the same spirit of shared commitment, pragmatism, and urgency that spurred the creation of AGOA 15 years ago, and will move our relationship forward in the years to come.
About the Author: Florie Liser | Assistant US Trade Representative, Africa – Florizelle (Florie) Liser is the Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Africa in the Office of the United States Trade Representative. In this position, she leads U.S. trade efforts in the 49 countries of sub-Saharan Africa and oversees implementation of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). Ms. Liser played a key role in the Administration’s review of AGOA from 2013-2014, and the work done with Congress leading to AGOA’s 10 year extension in 2015. Ms. Liser was also appointed in April 2014 as the Administration’s Africa Export Policy Coordinator.
Ms. Liser’s current and previous positions have given her an extensive background in development, trade negotiations, and Africa. Among the positions she has held are Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Industry, Market Access and Telecommunications and Senior Trade Policy Advisor at the Department of Transportation. Early in her career, Ms. Liser worked as an Associate Fellow at the Overseas Development Council – a non-profit organization focused on the U.S. stake in the economic advancement of developing countries. Ms. Liser has for many years been actively involved in promoting trade and development policies that recognize Africa’s growing importance to the U.S. and its African-American citizens.
Of her interest in Africa, Ms. Liser has said, “I have been fortunate to travel to many countries in sub-Saharan Africa and look forward to visiting all of the nearly 50 countries for which my office is responsible. My first impressions of Africa were of its vast beauty, diversity, and potential. With its enormous natural resources and the skills and talent of its 1 billion people, I am convinced of the emerging and critical role that Africa plays in the global economy, and of the significant business, trade and investment opportunities that remain to be tapped.” Ms. Liser was born in the Republic of Panama and raised in Brooklyn, New York. She holds a M.A. in International Economics from Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), and a B.A. in International Relations and Political Science from Dickinson College.
The views expressed by the author(s) of article(s) published in this newsletter are their personal views and should not be interpreted as the views of The Association of Women in International Trade (WIIT) or its individual members. See full disclaimer here.