Last week, Congress introduced several bills that are important to the economic future and national security interests of the United States. Central among them is a 10-year extension of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, legislation that has served as the cornerstone of the U.S.-African economic relationship and has dramatically expanded U.S trade with Africa over the past 15 years.
In Ghana in 2009, President Obama highlighted the importance of U.S. engagement with Africa when he said, “I do not see the countries and peoples of Africa as a world apart; I see Africa as a fundamental part of our interconnected world – partners with America on behalf of the future we want for all of our children. That partnership must be grounded in mutual responsibility and mutual respect.” At the United States-Africa Leaders’ Summit last year, he called on Congress to renew AGOA well before its expiration in September 2015, and we are pleased that the bill introduced last week not only extends AGOA for the longest extension in its history but also makes improvements that modernize and increase the effectiveness of the program.
Since AGOA was signed into law in 2000, it has been a catalyst for the growing partnership between Africa and the United States. At a pivotal time in the continent’s development, AGOA has provided vital economic opportunities by supporting regional integration, helping African companies become more competitive, and fostering an enabling environment for private sector investment. AGOA non-oil exports have more than tripled since the program was introduced supporting an estimated 350,000 direct jobs and hundreds of thousands of indirect jobs, according to apparel sector trade groups. AGOA supports and reflects our shared values by providing incentives to adopt good governance, pro-growth and pro-development policies, including on worker rights and human rights.
By supporting African development, AGOA also provides tangible economic benefits for the United States. Since 2000, U.S. exports to sub-Saharan Africa have more than tripled as Africa’s growing middle class is increasingly able to buy high-quality Made in America products. African businesses have sought more U.S. inputs, expertise, and joint partnerships. U.S. investment in Africa is creating good jobs and higher incomes for workers on both sides of the Atlantic. By encouraging prosperity, peace, and development, trade programs like AGOA support U.S. foreign policy and strategic goals, in Africa and elsewhere.
The AGOA Extension and Enhancement Act – introduced in the Senate and House builds on these accomplishments and creates a strong platform for the future. It would extend the program for ten years, giving companies the certainty needed to develop supply chains and sustain long-term investments. It would encourage the development of key industries and promote regional integration by allowing AGOA beneficiaries to combine inputs to qualify for the preferences. It would give the Administration greater flexibility in engaging with AGOA beneficiaries to resolve eligibility issues including market access issues, and encourage governance and policy improvements in key areas such as worker rights and human rights.
President Obama has made clear his support for a seamless, long-term extension of AGOA on many occasions, including in a letter to the Congressional trade leadership last month (PDF 272 KB) (Download Adobe Reader), where he said a long-term extension of AGOA would “signal unquestionably our shared strategic interest in supporting a prosperous future for the African continent.” The AGOA Extension and Enhancement Act is also an important step in strengthening U.S. economic leadership and engagement with the developing world. It deserves bipartisan support and swift approval in Congress.
Ambassador Michael Froman is the U.S. Trade Representative. Ambassador Susan E. Rice is the U.S. National Security Advisor.