21 years ago today, the landmark African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) became law, inaugurating a new era in US-Africa economic relations. I honor the pioneering Bipartisan Congressional architects of AGOA: Former Representatives: Bill Archer; Charlie Rangel; Jim McDermott; Bill Thomas; The Late Donald Payne; Ed Royce; The Late Phil Crane; and, Bill Jefferson. I also pay tribute to former US President Bill Clinton who championed and enacted AGOA.
This is a moment to take stock and chart a course for the future.
AGOA has helped lift millions out of poverty across Africa, especially women and the economically vulnerable.
By conservative estimates, AGOA has generated 1.3 million new jobs in the African apparel sector and supported more than 100,000 jobs in the US. AGOA has delivered nearly $75 billion, since 2001, in non-oil products into the US market, duty-free.
But the full diversification of African exports to the US and the US private sector investments in Africa we wanted to see have yet to be realized.
We need a bold new approach that builds on AGOA -- the US-Africa Accelerated Growth Initiative (provisional title) – in order to:
- Expand US trade with Africa on a reciprocal basis.
- Facilitate African access to low-cost bond financing for infrastructure development.
- Incentivize US investments in Africa through tax incentives.
- Reform and refocus USAID on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. New commercially oriented initiatives should guide development assistance with the US Development Finance Corporation; MCC; and, US Treasury playing leading roles.
- Ensure that US importers retain confidence in AGOA preferences so as not to disrupt orders as the Act comes up for renewal in 2025.
Successfully implemented, US policies can constructively compete with China's hegemonic ambitions in Africa and boost critical African support for US positions on trade, climate change and other transnational issues.
The new policy framework must support and reinforce Africa-led initiatives, including the African Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).
In redesigning US aid, we must aggressively root out paternalism and demand full accountability from agencies and contractors based on tangible outcomes, while identifying and scrapping programs that do more harm than good.
As the world recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is time for US policymakers to begin treating African prosperity, stability and partnership as a strategic priority – a must-have, not a nice-to-have. On an ever-shrinking planet: the quality of American lives will increasingly depend on the quality of African lives.
I hope we can come together, as we did 21 years ago in passing AGOA, to forge a new consensus on a practical strategy that reflects today's realities.