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CRS — U.S. Trade and Investment Relations with sub-Saharan Africa and the African Growth and Opportunity Act

December 17, 2012

U.S. Trade and Investment Relations with sub-Saharan Africa and the African Growth and Opportunity Act (PDF)

Source: Congressional Research Service (via U.S. Department of State Foreign Press Center)

Following the end of the apartheid era in South Africa in the early 1990s, the United States sought to increase economic relations with sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). President Clinton instituted several measures that dealt with investment, debt relief, and trade. Congress passed legislation that required the President to develop a trade and development policy for Africa. Between 1960 and 1973, Africa’s economic growth was relatively strong, followed by a period of stagnation and decline for the subsequent two decades in many SSA countries. Current perspectives, however, indicate that many of the fastest-growing countries in the world are on the African continent, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects that the SSA region will grow in terms of real GDP by 5.3% in 2012 and 2013.

In 2000, Congress approved new U.S. trade and investment legislation for SSA in the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA; Title I, P.L. 106-200). According to U.S. trade statistics, U.S. trade with SSA has comprised 1% to 2% of U.S. total trade with the world. AGOA extends preferential treatment to U.S. imports from eligible countries that are pursuing market reform measures. Data show that U.S. imports under AGOA are mostly energy products, but imports of other products have grown significantly. AGOA mandated that U.S. officials meet regularly with their counterparts in SSA, and 11 of these meetings have been held to date. The 11 th AGOA Forum was held from June 14 to June 15, 2012, in Washington, DC.

AGOA also directed the President to provide U.S. government technical assistance and trade capacity support to AGOA beneficiary countries. Government agencies that have roles in this effort include the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Africa (established by statute under AGOA), the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the Export-Import Bank, the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service, and the Trade and Development Agency. In AGOA, Congress declared that free-trade agreements should be negotiated, where feasible, with interested SSA countries. Related to this provision, negotiations on a free-trade agreement with the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), which includes South Africa and four other countries, began in June 2003, but were suspended in April 2006.

The 112 th Congress enacted legislation to extend through September 2015 an expiring provision in AGOA, which allows apparel made in lesser-developed countries to be made of yarns and fabrics from any country and still receive duty-free treatment, subject to a cap (P.L. 112-163). This amendment to AGOA also added South Sudan to the list of SSA countries eligible for AGOA benefits. Eligible countries may become AGOA beneficiaries subject to approval by the Administration.

Legislation is pending to further enhance U.S.-SSA trade relations. H.R. 4221 and S. 2215 seek to increase U.S. exports to Africa, in part, through strategies aimed at further developing relationships between the United States and African countries on a government-to-government level, fostering private sector U.S.-African ties, and targeting more U.S. export financing toward trade with Africa. An amended version of S. 2215 was ordered reported by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in September 2012. H.R. 656, a separate initiative, would create at the State Department a Special Representative for United States-Africa Trade, Development, and Diaspora Affairs that would also promote U.S. trade and investment ties with SSA.

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