Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry, Alie Badara Mansaray, received a standing ovation at the just concluded 12th African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Ministerial Forum in Addis Ababa after making a brilliant intervention.
This year's AGOA initiative is holding under the theme: "Sustainable Transformation through Trade and Technology". The event brought together senior officials from the United States and AGOA-eligible African countries to discuss a range of trade and investment-related issues including the extension of the initiative after 2015.
Mr. Mansaray, who led Sierra Leone's delegation to the AGOA Initiative, pointed out in his intervention that trade facilitation could only be achieved when trade infrastructure is prioritized. He recognized the role the United States is playing in supporting Africa but emphasized that much needed to be done in the area of trade infrastructure and called on the US government to help Sierra Leone and other least developed countries on trade infrastructure.
"The things that should support growth were still lacking," the deputy agriculture minister said, while also calling on the US government to consider developing some infrastructures in Africa, citing roads, ports, rails, power and water supply.
The above mentioned, he said, are the impediments for trade not to thrive in the continent. He underscored the importance of trade facilitation, which he argued has to be complemented with trade infrastructure.
He pointed out that the US should capacitate AGOA eligible countries to ensure they make full use of the benefits the initiative is offering, but however stated that there is no point calling for an extension of the mandate of the initiative if AGOA eligible countries cannot fully benefit from the opportunities that are associated with the initiative.
After his intervention, speaker after speaker and delegation after delegation commended Mr. Mansaray for his lucid and brilliant comments.
In his response, the United States trade representative, Ambassador Michael Froman, acknowledged the issues highlighted by the deputy minister, which he described as important. He said the United States has taken the lead through the Power Africa Initiative launched by President Barack Obama during his recent African tour.
He further encouraged African countries to engage other partners in a bid to build Africa's infrastructures.
US Senator Johnny Isakson also commended Mansaray for his intervention.
Senior officials in the deputy minister's delegation included His Excellency Andrew Gbebay Bangali, Sierra Leone's envoy to the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and Vice Dean of the Group of ECOWAS Ambassadors; Ambassador Bockarie Kortu Stevens, Sierra Leone's emissary to Washington; and Henry Yamba Kamara, managing director of the Sierra Leone Produce Marketing Company.
The AGOA Initiative, which was signed into law on 18 May 2000 by former US President Bill Clinton, is designed to increase business to business relations between the US and African countries through duty-free export of certain African products to the United States.
Meanwhile, at the margins of the AGOA meeting, the deputy trade and industry minister held high level consultations with senior representatives from the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa or ECA where he was able to secure a promise from ECA to help Sierra Leone in developing a national AGOA export strategy and developing an intra-Africa trade free zone.
Mr. Mansaray also held fruitful discussions with his Nigerian counterpart on how trade cooperation could be enhanced in the two sister countries.