Lagos — The African Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA), a United States Trade Act meant to enhance U.S. market access for Sub-Saharan African countries, is a special economic growth and development initiative. It was predicated on the understanding of the US that African nations are at a comparative disadvantage in global trade because of their lack of capital, poor infrastructure, corruption, political and economic mismanagement.
The Act, which presently allows 39 sub-Saharan African countries including Nigeria access to US market, was in operation for eight years between 2000-2008, but amendments by former President George W. Bush in 2007 extended its life to 2015.
Duty-free access to the U.S. market under the combined AGOA/ Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) programme stands at approximately 7,000 product tariff lines, including some 1,800 product tariff lines that were added to the GSP by the AGOA legislation. Among them are items such as apparel and footwear, wine, certain motor vehicle components, a variety of agricultural products, chemicals, steel and others.
Considering Nigeria's enormous potentials, it was expected she would take advantage of some of these opportunities especially those over agricultural products. But according to the US International Trade Information (USIT) data for January to June 2009, Nigeria is eighth on the basis of US import of agric products from AGOA eligible countries.
Nigeria was expected to benefit from AGOA with regard to cotton production and the derived products of textile and clothes, as well as other non-oil products. At least, it would have helped in moving the economy away from overdependence on oil as a major source of revenue.
Expectedly, the Nigerian-American Chamber of Commerce is alarmed that Nigeria and Nigerian businessmen are yet to maximise the benefit from AGOA. For now AGOA, which should be a lucrative opportunity for Nigerian businessmen, traders, tailors, Nigerian apparel designers and fashion artists, is lost in plain sight through inadequate government response or sheer ignorance of its target audience.
The profile of textile and apparel exports to the US showed Nigeria coming 25th among 41 countries. This really is because most textile factories in Nigeria have closed down because of the high cost of producing textiles in Nigeria.
Obviously, the poor response of Nigeria's entrepreneurs to AGOA is attributable to the non-competitive business environment they operate in. The lack of functional infrastructure, high cost of funds and a myriad of taxes have resulted in a soaring cost of production.
However, we believe that it is no use lamenting and wallowing in poverty, pinning all hopes of a better life on government when Nigerians have opportunities such as AGOA to live a better life. Nigerians can individually and collectively improve their cash flow and earnings in hard currency through the AGOA opportunity. Countries like Kenya, South Africa, Malawi, Swaziland, Ghana, Cameroon, Ethiopia have made huge gains from AGOA.
It is also instructive that countries such as Italy which have a relatively poor national economy have progressed through the resilience, creativity and innovation of its cottage industries run by individuals and families as private enterprises. Italian products and designer apparels have become global brands.
The AGOA opportunity offers the same opportunity to Nigeria's budding entrepreneurs, designers, traders and businessmen to access the lucrative US market.
Indeed, Nigeria cannot afford to allow the AGOA opportunity for its economic growth and development to waste away. While we expect government to drum awareness of AGOA around the country, we urge enterprising Nigerians to help themselves through the Nigerian-American Chamber of Commerce, the US embassy or through the internet.