Addis Abeba — A US State Department official has disclosed that the decision to reinstate Ethiopia's eligibility for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) is "still pending". Constance Hamilton, Assistant US Trade Representative for Africa, made this statement during a digital press briefing held on Thursday.
"Those decisions are still pending," Ms Hamilton told journalists from the continent, and that "there probably will not be an announcement at the time that we get to the AGOA Forum," she said referring to the upcoming AGOA forum.
Last month, US officials announced that the 20th US-Sub-Saharan Africa Trade and Economic Cooperation Forum (AGOA Forum) will be hosted by South Africa in Johannesburg from 2-4 November, 2023. The forum aims to bring together the governments of the United States and AGOA-eligible countries, as well as representatives from key regional economic organizations, the private sector, and civil society.
President Joe Biden signed an executive order in November 2021 removing Ethiopia from AGOA following the escalation of the war, which started a year earlier in the Tigray region, and witnessed "gross violations of internationally recognized human rights." The decision had led to several foreign companies operating in Ethiopia's industrial parks leaving the country, as they had primarily targeted Ethiopia due to its eligibility for AGOA.
The Ethiopian government strongly condemned the US decision, describing it as "misguided and failing to consider the wellbeing of ordinary citizens." The Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the termination will also negatively affect the livelihoods of over 200,000 low-income families, mostly women, who have no connection to the conflict. Ethiopia said although it "understands the human rights concerns of the US, it believes that "such concerns over human rights issues do not warrant the decision of the US to suspend Ethiopia's privileges over the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA)."
Ethiopia has since been actively lobbying for its reinstatement into the AGOA program for over a year. In June 2022, State Minister of Foreign Affairs Ambassador Tesfaye Yilma held talks with Ambassador Tracy Jacobson, Chief of Mission, at the US Embassy in Addis Ababa.
During the meeting, Ambassador Jacobson expressed hope that Ethiopia's constructive efforts towards a peaceful settlement of the conflict and facilitating conditions for the smooth flow of humanitarian aid to affected communities would be considered in their request for reinstatement.
During his visit to Ethiopia in March this year, Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed with Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen, where the extension of AGOA privileges emerged as a significant talking point.