USTR Froman Keynotes Africa Forum with Business and Diplomatic Leaders to Urge Congress to Reauthorize AGOA
WASHINGTON—Congressmember Karen Bass (D-Calif.) yesterday joined U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Michael Froman for a forum in conjunction with the Brookings Institution and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to discuss the reauthorization of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act. The morning event, “AGOA Today and Beyond: The Future of the US-Africa Commercial Relationship” convened more than 200 people to highlight the importance of AGOA. Passed by a Republican-controlled Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 2000, AGOA has helped to significantly increase African exports to the United States and led to jobs both on the African continent and in the United States. With AGOA set to expire in September 2015, yesterday's forum was an opportunity to discuss the process and progress of its renewal as well as ideas to improve the law.
“Today, thanks to the spectrum of meetings, forums, roundtables and summits held by a range of AGOA stakeholders in the U.S. and Africa, all of us are better able to understand the significance of AGOA,” said Rep. Bass. “We all have also reviewed and refined the reasoning behind not only reauthorizing AGOA, but strengthening it.”
Ambassador Froman, just one day after testifying before a Senate Finance Committee on trade issues, said, “There is a lot of activity going on all around the world in terms of shaping the future of the global trading system, and we don’t want Africa to be left behind. And so we need to get AGOA renewed. We also need to lay the foundation for how to think about how that relationship might evolve over time into a more permanent, reciprocal set of arrangements with particular countries over the medium and long term.”
The event also featured a panel moderated by Witney Schneidman, Nonresident Fellow of The Brookings Institution, who led a discussion with His Excellency Professor Eliachim Molapi Sebatane, Lesotho Ambassador to the United States, Scott Eisner, vice president for African Affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Rahama Wright Founder and CEO of Shea Yeleen, a combined nonprofit and commercial entity that promotes sustainable economic development in rural sub-Saharan Africa.
Ambassador Sebatane, representing the African Ambassadors Group, remarked on the importance of AGOA to the economies of African countries. He spoke about a recent visit of the African Union Ministerial Delegation on AGOA and welcomed the bicameral and bipartisan support AGOA enjoys on the Hill.
“I left the meetings [with members of Congress] feeling there is much support for reauthorizing AGOA. The only question is when,” the Ambassador said.
The September deadline appeared to be the main point of concern for the participants in the forum. Besides the upcoming deadline, participants universally stressed that AGOA has been positive for American and African economies and especially has provided a path for women to improve their economic status.
“Talking about AGOA is not just about business trade, it's about lifestyle, the development of human beings,” said Wright, whose company manufactures shea butter products from Africa that can be found in more than 40 Whole Foods markets. She also focused on how AGOA has enabled women in Africa to start businesses and improve not only their economic status, but those of their families.
Studies have shown that AGOA has played a significant role in producing jobs in the United States and on the African continent. According to a 2013 study by the AGOA Ambassadors Working Group, AGOA has generated approximately 100,000 jobs in the United States and 350,000 direct jobs and 1,000,000 indirect jobs in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The Chamber’s Scott Eisner echoed AGOA’s history of job creation adding that the Act ”is a pivotal launching pad for U.S.-Africa business engagement.”
For a video of the forum click here.
For photos from the forum click here.