By Daniel Ooko and Ben Ochieng
NAIROBI, Aug. 5 (Xinhua) -- African countries will be
using the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) forum in Nairobi to push for
a comprehensive revision of key provisions of U.S. legislation to remove hidden
barriers to trade.
The delegates attending the forum which entered its
second day on Wednesday said AGOA should be amended to make it a permanent trade
program if it is to achieve the intended purpose of strengthening trade between
Sub-Saharan Africa and Washington.
African Union deputy chairperson Erastus Mwencha said
stringent quality and lengthy certification processes had prevented many African
producers from exporting to the U.S. under what has been described as the most
lucrative trade preference legislation ever passed by the American Congress.
Mwencha, who is the immediate former Secretary
General of COMESA, told participants from 40 African countries that the Act
should be investment-friendly and predictable to encourage investors to take
advantage of the opportunities it presents.
"This element is lacking in the Act and that is an
area that we could try to reinforce in AGOA. Many investors will always be
hesitant to embark on AGOA programs especially when they don't know that they
will be eligible," he said.
This, he further stressed, was particularly true in
situations where -- if there's a breakdown in dialogue between the U.S. and a
member state -- the business community would bear the brunt of such a standoff.
The Act, which is part of the U.S. legislation and
meant to liberalize market access to the country, initially covered the
eight-year period from October 2000 to September 2008, but amendments signed
into law by former U.S. President George W. Bush in July 2004 further extended
it to 2015.
"We intend to use this forum to press for improvement
in quality certification processes, especially in sanitary and phytosanitary
(SPS) assessment," said Mwencha.
U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) data
shows that trade between Africa and the world's largest economy is still
dominated by export of natural resources.
That reality has left four oil-producing countries
with more than 90 percent of the 56 billion U.S. dollars that Africa earned from
the sale of goods and services to the U.S. under the AGOA pact last year.
The USITC data shows that Africa's export of crude
oil, precious metals, medicinal chemicals, oil seeds, steel grew steadily under
AGOA while exports of motor vehicles and parts, computer peripherals, consumer
electronics, lumber and apparel dropped.
"The U.S. government can also include in the
legislation some investment provisions that would encourage U.S. investors to
look at Africa," he added.
He pointed out this would help dispel the image of
Africa as a politically instable, poor and conflict laden and disease stricken
The AU deputy chairperson proposed the linking of
AGOA to other global trade initiatives such as the World Trade Organization,
G20and G8 forums which would go a long way in integrating Africa into the global
Trade between U.S. and sub-Saharan Africa has more
than tripled since the trade law took effect but critics say that the impact has
been inflated by U.S. demand for oil from energy producers such as Angola and
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected
to highlight what the administration sees as a key achievement so far for Africa
-- a 20-billion-U.S. dollar fund to boost agriculture and ease hunger in poor
The fund was sealed by Obama and other leaders of the
Group of Eight rich nations last month in Italy.
Clinton will address a forum of some 40 nations
covered by the African Growth and Opportunity Act, a U.S. law giving market
access to sub-Saharan nations committed to democracy and free markets.
Some African nations have voiced concern over moves
in the U.S. Congress to extend trade preferences to other poor countries such as
Bangladesh and Cambodia.
Mwencha also urged Washington to assist Africa to
diversify its export products which would in turn enable the continent to
further penetrate the American market.
Efforts to diversify and add value to Africa's
eligible countries' products have borne fruit with the 2008 figures showing U.S.
imports under AGOA were 66.3 billion dollars, which was approximately 30 percent
higher than in 2007.
Kenya, which has more than 6,000 product lines to sell to the U.S. under AGOA, has mainly exported textile and apparel, a crowed segment with more than 27 players from Africa alone.