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Reflections on the 2013 AGOA Forum


Earlier this week, I was privileged to be a Member of the U.S. Delegation to the 2013 AGOA Forum held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. First signed into law in 2000 by President Clinton, the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) provides duty-free access to the U.S. market for a list of products and apparel.

Over the years, AGOA has helped develop African industry, particularly in textile and apparel sectors. It also created hundreds of thousands of African jobs, pulled millions out of poverty and empowered women across the continent. As a result, one of AGOA's greatest benefits is that it prioritizes trade as an alternative to traditional aid paradigms.

Since AGOA's inception, sub-Saharan Africa has experienced steady growth with six of the world's most quickly rising economies found on the continent. African markets are now poised for similar gains in the years ahead. Imagine for a moment if there was a doubling or tripling in the number of African nations that experienced near double-digit growth. It would be a decade characterized by the expansion of new markets, countless middle-class consumers with disposable incomes, and opportunities to leverage and engage U.S. and African private sectors.

AGOA: Good for Africa and the U.S.

Forum participants noted AGOA's benefit to America. AGOA has created jobs and opportunities here at home. Companies like Levi's and Target have purchased products made in Africa and sold them to American consumers. And on a site visit to a textile producer in Ethiopia, I watched the production operations of a company that has successfully produced fabric purchased by J. Crew and used in New York Fashion Week. These are just a few of the examples that illustrate the win-win opportunity for both the U.S. and African nations through AGOA.

Reasons for Attending the AGOA Forum

I chose to participate in this year's AGOA Forum for two reasons. The first was to ensure that the Forum participants, particularly African governments, understood that many Members of Congress are invested in AGOA's future. I was pleased to sit alongside Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) on a panel where he and I reiterated AGOA's importance and the bipartisan and bicameral support it has enjoyed since the beginning.

The second reason for participating was to listen and learn from African nations eager to see AGOA renewed. As Members of Congress, we may have particular views about what should be done to strengthen the legislation. It is important, however, that we listen to those who have much to gain from AGOA's benefits and understand the challenges they face as they attempt to fully access those opportunities.

Take, for example, when African nations last year pleaded for early extension of AGOA's fabric provision. Despite the efforts by a handful of congressional members, only at the eleventh hour were we able to extend this provision. Regrettably, our inability to promptly approve the resolution resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs across Africa.

Looking toward AGOA's Renewal

Once again, African nations are pressing Members of Congress and the Administration for a speedy renewal of AGOA with a 15-year extension – a period of time that would certainly provide predictability for U.S. importers and investors. There is also significant interest in a drastic increase in the rate of value added products made on the continent. Too often, goods are shipped in their raw state to distant locations where value addition takes place outside of Africa. If the trend were reversed, greater profits would be garnered and African industry would have yet another opportunity to grow and thrive.

As we look towards AGOA's renewal, we hope to capitalize on the mutual benefits for AGOA-participating nations and for America. I am pleased that over the next year, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) will launch a comprehensive review of AGOA. This is welcome news and I look forward to working with Ambassador Froman and his team.

I am also pleased that Members in the House and Senate and their respective committees of jurisdictions have similarly signaled a desire to evaluate AGOA. It is my hope we will continue to see that support as we move forward toward renewal.

AGOA Is No Panacea

AGOA is an important component of a burgeoning trade and investment relationship between the United States and African nations. It, however, will not solve all of Africa's challenges. Most recently, we have seen major efforts to address the critical demand for infrastructure development, power generation, regional trade, and technical assistance. During President Obama's visit to Africa he announced Trade Africa and Power Africa, and the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee recently introduced the Electrify Africa Act 2013, which complements the President's programs. If combined, the power initiatives would substantially increase power generation on the continent. These important announcements and accompanying legislation seek to expand and improve U.S. trade and investment environments with the continent and will further grow African markets and provide opportunities for American business.

Decisive Leadership

This year's AGOA Forum presented some of the success achieved by African nations over a period that has demonstrated impressive economic expansion. It also reminded us that still, there is much to be done to ensure full utilization of AGOA by African nations. Over the next year, it is my hope that along with my Congressional colleagues, we will find agreement on answers to some of the most important questions posed at this year's Forum. With decisive leadership and strong bipartisan and bicameral support, successful votes on AGOA's renewal are possible before the 113th Congress adjourns.


Rep. Karen Bass has served in the United States Congress since 2011, representing California's 37th District. She is the Ranking Member of House Committee on Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations.

On September 20th, Rep. Bass will be hosting an event titled "The 2013 Africa Braintrust: 50 Years of Unity & a Future of Progress" at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. You can find a flyer and more information about the event here.

Photo attributed to Lord Jim on Flickr Creative Commons

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