Washington has cut Ethiopia, Mali and Guinea out of a duty-free trade program. The U.S. decision is a response to alleged human rights violations and coups d’etat in these African countries.
The decision was announced on January 1 by the U.S. Trade Representative. Ethiopia, Mali and Guinea were excluded from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) “due to actions taken by each of their governments in violation of the AGOA Statute”. The USTR said Ethiopia, Mali and Guinea may still rejoin the pact if they met the statute’s provisions.
“The US was deeply concerned by the gross violations of internationally recognised human rights being perpetrated by the government of Ethiopia and other parties amid the widening conflict in northern Ethiopia”, as well as by “the unconstitutional change in governments in both Guinea and Mali”.
The AGOA is a unilateral trade preference program established in 2000 as part of broader legislation to strengthen U.S. trade ties with Africa and the Caribbean. The policy is seen as a way to boost growth and bolster democratic ideals across the continent as well as to strengthen the U.S. economy by opening markets with hundreds of millions of potential consumers to American producers.
The AGOA trade legislation provides sub-Saharan African nations with duty-free access to the US if they meet certain eligibility requirements, such as eliminating barriers to US trade and investment and making progress towards political pluralism.
The suspension of Ethiopia follows a September 17th executive order sanctioning the locals involved in violence in the Tigray region. US President Joe Biden then claimed that the situation in the country constituted “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”
The decision to cut the country from the duty-free trading scheme within AGOA due to alleged human rights violations was announced in November, and should take effect on January 1.
Ethiopian officials commented on the Biden’s decision, claiming that they were extremely disappointed.
According to Vanda Felbab-Brown, co-director of the African Security Initiative at Brookings, AGOA brings Ethiopia about $100m in “hard cash” annually and directly generates employment for about 100,000 people, mostly women in southern Ethiopia working in textile factories that export to the US.
The suspension of the trade benefits puts more pressure on the war-torn country, suffering from the military conflict as well as the coronavirus pandemic and high inflation.
Due to the struggle between the Tigrayan leadership and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Abiy since 2020, tens of thousands of people have been killed in the 13-month-long conflict, while about 400,000 are facing famine in the Tigray region alone. The move by Washington will reverse economic gains and harm women and children.
In their turn, Guinea and Mali were suspended from the program after the military coups, as Washington is always “deeply concerned by the unconstitutional change in governments”.
Ethiopia, Mali and Guinea are not the first countries to be suspended from the AGOA. The list already includes Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Gambia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe.
The U.S. trade policy in the regions, as well as its sanctions against other countries around the world, rarely pushes any political developments and opens the path towards democracy, but poses more threats to the civilians who are already suffering from any military or political instability.
Such U.S. policy paves the way towards growing Sino-African trade. China surpassed the United States as Africa’s largest trade partner already in 2009. Today, Beijing maintains special trade and economic cooperation zones in several sub-Saharan countries and has provided thousands of billions dollars in foreign direct investment and development loans to the region.
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