By WILLIAM MAUDLIN and DREW HINSHAW
U.S. and African leaders meeting in Washington on Monday kicked off a campaign to renew a program that gives exemptions on U.S. tariffs and quotas in an effort to boost trade and stimulate the economies of sub-Saharan African countries.
Leaders in the U.S. and Africa are looking to spur economic ties at a time when trade between the two is sinking and China’s hunger for commodities is boosting Beijing’s influence on the continent.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, center, discusses the African Growth and Opportunity Act on Monday during the U.S.-Africa Summit at the World Bank in Washington. AFP/Getty Images
American officials and lawmakers say extending the 14-year-old African Growth and Opportunity Act, or Agoa, is crucial to preserving trade ties with fast-growing African countries, especially when U.S. trade negotiations at the World Trade Organization and with other major economies have stalled.
China passed the U.S. in imports in 2012 and imported $88 billion from sub-Saharan Africa in 2013, according to the International Monetary Fund. Partly because of increased oil production at home, U.S. imports from the region plunged to $34.5 billion last year, from a peak of $78.2 billion in 2008, with exports showing some gains in recent years.
Agoa is part of a strategy to increase economic ties with a growing Africa—including in trade and power generation—as China strengthens ties on the continent and the European Union negotiates free-trade agreements there. The goal, U.S. officials say, is to replace foreign aid with trade.
Building economic ties could also help contain conflicts that have convulsed Africa, said Erastus Mwencha, deputy chairman of the 54-nation African Union.
But critics point out that the bulk of African trade is oil shipments from West Africa, and U.S. agricultural and textile interests have opposed efforts to expand the list of products eligible for tariff and quota breaks.
President Barack Obama’s trade policy has faced delays and dogged opposition in Congress, and a similar preferential tariffs program for the developing world was allowed to expire last year.