A one-day informational session on the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which aimed to help local entrepreneurs enter the United States market with value-added products, has ended in Monrovia.
The forum, which brought together over 50 entrepreneurs in agriculture and business, was organized by the Liberia Chamber of Commerce (LCC) and Building Markets in collaboration with USAID and the West African Trade and Investment Hub. Building Markets is an international NGO with the mission to build markets, create jobs and sustain peace and to connect entrepreneurs to new business opportunities.
Topics discussed included AGOA Benefits, Advantages and Rules, Quality, Standards, Labeling and Packaging, all aimed at assisting local businesses with exporting to the U.S. market.
The forum also provided local business people practical knowledge on how to maximize export opportunities under AGOA, to understand the Liberian export process, and contacts for the regulatory bodies involved.
Discussions on financing options for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), how to access the U.S. market to meet buyers and customers' expectations, were also held.
Facilitators lectured participants on how to meet AGOA's criteria by adding value to their products.
"I now have a better understanding of AGOA," a representative from the agribusinesses said. "I have learnt that for me to get U.S buyers, I need to produce quality products that can be competitive in the AGOA market. I also had the opportunity to interact with different partners involved in AGOA."
Ms. Stephanie S. Duncan, who spoke on behalf of the LCC, said the AGOA forum would benefit business entities in Liberia and Africa through increased market access.
She said the training is a learning opportunity for entrepreneurs to market their products in the U.S.
"We need to produce quality and competitive products, if we are to maximize on the AGOA opportunity. We will continue to conduct workshops like today's in order to create more awareness about AGOA among Liberians," said Ms. Duncan.
According to her, it is now time for more local businesses to start exporting to the U.S.
Facilitating the forum, senior AGOA Specialist, Dr. Mohammed Abou Iiana told entrepreneurs that AGOA has 6,400 eligible tariff lines that Africans can benefit from. He further stated that the organization also promotes adding value to goods that would be exported to the U.S.
Mr. Iiana said AGOA also provides trade preferences for most goods exported to the U.S. from sub-Saharan African countries. Light manufacturing exports to the U.S., such as apparel and textiles, thrive under AGOA.
"I enjoyed the enthusiasm of the audience and the fact that the entrepreneurs really understood the U.S. requirements," he said.
Meanwhile, local business people who attended the forum said they have serious challenges with the National Standards Laboratory (NSL), especially when it comes to testing and calibrating products for public consumption. NSL falls under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
According to them, the testing, which is supposed to take two to three days, normally takes almost a week. As a result, the product will be delayed for export.
They used the occasion to call on the government through the Ministry of Commerce to see how they can collaborate with partners in the sub-region to provide more timely tests their products.
AGOA is a United States Trade Act signed into law by former President Bill Clinton on May 18, 2000, to give African countries duty free access to the US market. The Act has since been renewed to 2025.