The African Growth and Opportunity Act, which was launched under the Clinton administration in 2000, allows several dozen sub-Saharan African countries to export to the U.S. duty-free. While the program, which is set to expire in 2015, counts a number of successes, most experts agree it has not fulfilled its potential.
On Aug. 5, 2009, President Barack Obama delivered a video message to participants at the annual African Growth and Opportunity Act Forum in Kenya, during which the president reiterated his commitment to AGOA and to making it work better.
"Over the last decade, AGOA has transformed the U.S.-African trade relationship," Obama said. "Opening America"s doors to your exports has been good for Africa — creating African jobs, bringing millions of dollars of investment to sub-Saharan Africa and sparking new trade across the continent. And it"s been good for America — with African exporters seeking U.S. expertise, investments and joint-ventures. And today, we"re your single largest trade partner.
"At the same time, it"s clear that U.S.-African trade has yet to realize its full potential. And if the current recession teaches us anything, it"s that in a global economy not only the opportunities are shared. So are the risks. So there"s so much more we can do together to plant the seeds of our economic recovery, and to achieve lasting prosperity."
Obama concluded by saying, "And to all Africans who are pursuing a future of hope and opportunity, know this: You have a partner and a friend in the United States. That"s why we"ll work with you to develop strong institutions, clear legal frameworks and the regulations and infrastructure that help bring new products to market."
Obama did not talk then about any specific measures he might pursue to strengthen the AGOA.
But on Nov. 17, 2009, Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., introduced H.R. 4101, which seeks to strengthen and improve the AGOA. Among its provisions, it would: extend benefits to all AGOA countries until 2019 and make benefits to AGOA Less Developed Countries permanent; increase the focus on trade capacity building and ensure other poor nations receive trade benefits with the United States; and include provisions to protect the trade interests of AGOA countries in apparel categories where they are particularly competitive.
Said McDermott: "This bill will build upon the successes of the African Growth and Opportunity Act and improve the opportunity for trade with our African partners while helping poor nations outside of Africa benefit from duty-free trade with the United States. And while this legislation will help a new group of countries, it also includes a series of protections designed to ensure African nations already benefiting from trade preferences won"t be negatively affected."
In a statement before the House Committee on Ways and Means, Subcommittee on Trade, on Nov. 17, McDermott said, "While there are details to work out, I think there is broad agreement that our trade programs need to be stable, they need to be simplified, they need to be more effective, and they need to help more people."
We want to see where this bill goes before we render a final decision on this promise. But the fact that a bill was introduced, and in light of Obama's comments in support of reforming the AGOA, we will move this one to In the Works.