African Growth and Opportunity Act Renewal and its Importance to African Women

photoThe African Growth & Opportunity Act (AGOA) was enacted in 2000 to stimulate trade and investment between the United States and Sub-Saharan Africa. Since 2000, AGOA has been credited with more than doubling U.S. trade with AGOA-eligible countries. Today, African markets are growing rapidly, and trade and investment opportunities abound. With AGOA set to expire on September 30, 2015, the discussion about AGOA renewal has begun.

At the request of U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Froman, the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) instituted four investigations related to: (1) AGOA trade and investment performance; (2) the economic effects of providing duty-free treatment to AGOA-eligible countries; (3) possible changes to AGOA’s rules of origin to promote regional integration and to increase exports to the U.S.; and (4) the impact of EU’s free trade agreement with South Africa on U.S. exports. On January 22, 2014, Evelyn Suarez of Williams Mullen and George Langendorf of ENSAfrica submitted written comments to the USITC for Leading Women of Africa (LWA) giving “A Woman Entrepreneur’s Perspective” on “AGOA Performance.”

On December 12th, U.S. Congressional foreign policy leaders requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) examine the effectiveness of AGOA “in an effort to better increase investment, trade and job growth between African countries and the United States.” In Congress, there appears to be bi-partisan support for AGOA renewal, but Congressional action in today’s environment can be difficult and uncertain. Thus, forces are joining to advocate timely renewal to ensure that the gains made by the sub-Saharan countries are not lost. The USITC reports, as well as other works by the GAO and groups such as Brookings, will inform Congress as they debate AGOA renewal.

Common themes have already emerged including, among others, the following: (1) the necessity for a long-term duration; (2) timely passage to promote investor confidence; (3) the benefits of regional integration; (4) the importance of the continued inclusion of countries like South Africa; (5) the importance of capacity building, including that for trade facilitation; (6) the importance of the third country fabric rule; 7) adjusting rules of origin to further promote Sub-Saharan exports to the U.S.; and (8) the inclusion of more agricultural products. This is just a sampling of the issues raised.

The LWA submission brings an entirely different perspective to the table – that of the woman entrepreneur. Stories told by LWA members paint a picture of how AGOA has created jobs for women – thereby benefiting them, their families and communities, and how it has built stronger commercial ties between the U.S. and Africa. Because of AGOA, women trading in products such as cashew nuts, dry mangoes, leather, textiles, apparel and handicrafts have entered the U.S. market. LWA also commented on how AGOA has complemented other U.S. policies and programs, such as the State Department’s African Women Entrepreneur’s Program (AWEP) that promote gender equality in Africa. As noted in the U.S. State Department’s Policy Guidance on Promoting Gender Equality to Achieve Foreign Policy and National Security Objectives, investment in women’s employment, health and education are correlated with “greater economic growth and more successful development outcomes.”