All eyes on Joburg as it hosts AGOA Forum this week

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All eyes will be on Johannesburg as it hosts the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Forum from Thursday to Saturday. US officials and their counterparts in Africa will discuss the Washington DC’s flagship trade programme for the continent.

AGOA provides duty free access to the US market for most agricultural and manufactured products exported by eligible African countries. The trade pact has also been renewed twice and is due to expire in September 2025.

It has been a long journey for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) since the trade initiative was passed in 2000. It sought to deepen trade ties with sub-Saharan Africa and help African countries to develop their economies.

About 35 African countries are eligible. But countries can lose and regain eligibility based on criteria including economic policies and protection of human rights. A number of countries have used AGOA to boost their exports especially in textiles. For South Africa, stakes are even higher as the country seeks to revitalize its battered economy.

America has made it clear that countries that undermine US national security or foreign policy interests are not eligible. US President Joe Biden has indicated that he will end the participation of Gabon, Niger, Uganda and Central African Republic in the AGOA.

Some of the countries that will be booted out from the trade instrument had coups and failed to maintain their democratic systems. Despite long standing bipartisan support from lawmakers who view Washington’s flagship African trade initiative as critical to taking on China, deep dysfunction on Capitol Hill and divisions over the need for updates have raised doubts.