Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire — Deputy United States Trade Representative C.J. Mahoney delivered the following remarks at the opening ceremony of the 2019 African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Forum:
Good morning President Ouattara, esteemed Ministers and heads of delegations from our AGOA Partner Countries, Secretaries-General and Commissioners of the Regional Economic Communities and the African Union, Members of our Congressional delegation, my fellow colleagues from the U.S. Government, honored delegates and invited guests, welcome to the 18th AGOA Ministerial.
It is a pleasure to be here in Côte d'Ivoire, and I would like to start by first expressing Ambassador Lighthizer's regret that he is unable to attend. He was greatly looking forward to participating in his third AGOA Forum, but unfortunately was not able to make the trip this year. Ambassador Lighthizer did want me to convey however a warm welcome on his behalf, and his wishes for a productive meeting.
The changes in Africa and in the global trade policy landscape since AGOA was first enacted in 2000 have been profound. Today, Africa is more prosperous, more developed, and more interconnected with the global economy than ever before. Africa contains some of the fastest growing economies in the world that have resulted in a rapidly expanding middle class. The recent launch of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement in May of this year is a remarkable achievement. We congratulate the African Union and its Member States for this achievement.
The AfCFTA lays the groundwork for greater competitiveness, trade diversification, and economic growth. For twenty years, AGOA has supported these same objectives, including lowering barriers to trade and investment, boosting competitiveness and attracting investment, diversifying trade, and helping countries move up the value chain. The United States has played an important role in supporting Africa's regional integration goals through our long history of trade capacity building on the continent.
I am pleased to announce that the United States and the African Union will partner together to support the ongoing negotiation and implementation of the AfCFTA. Following my remarks, I invite AU Trade Commissioner to join me in signing a joint statement memorializing the commitment of the United States to the AfCFTA and to ensure that it reaches its full potential. During our meetings today, I look forward to learning more about the agreement, and how we can work together to help ensure its success.
Finally, let me note the importance of this year's Forum theme: "AGOA and the Future: Developing a New Paradigm to Guide U.S.-Africa Trade and Investment." It is time we lay the groundwork for an even closer trade and investment partnership. On the U.S. side, we have introduced a variety of new initiatives that will be discussed over the next two days. We will combine the promise of the AfCFTA with these new U.S. initiatives and help maximize the potential of U.S.-Africa trade.
We have an opportunity to pursue new, forward-looking initiatives and a vision for the future of U.S.-African trade. While we remain committed to AGOA, there are limits to what a unilateral trade preference program can achieve. We hope that, in time, enduring and reciprocal free trade agreements with the United States will serve as a conduit for the investment many African countries desire. Our free trade agreements provide the legal certainty necessary for private sector investments, and we have appreciated the interest many of you have shown in pursuing an FTA with the United States.
Thank you all for being here. I look forward to sharing more details during the first plenary session, as well as continuing the conversation over the next few days.
Thank you and welcome again.