Unlocking Africa’s Trade Potential

WASHINGTON, DC – Africa’s rise challenges the imagination. During the last decade, Sub-Saharan Africa was home to six of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies. During the next five years, the region’s GDP is expected to grow 30% faster than that of the rest of the world. And, during the next 35 years, the continent will account for more than half of the world’s population growth, according to the United Nations.

These trends will give African countries a more prominent role on the world stage, and provide new opportunities for people to better their lives. As African countries assume their new role, they want meaningful economic partnerships that deliver the sustainable, inclusive growth they seek. As US President Barack Obama said during his visit to Ethiopia last month, “Real economic partnerships have to be a good deal for Africa. They have to create jobs and capacity for Africans.”

By those criteria, the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) has been tremendously effective since its enactment in 2000. By removing tariffs on exports to the United States from 39 Sub-Saharan countries, it has stimulated growth, encouraged economic integration, and created opportunity where it otherwise might not have existed. Earlier this summer, the US Congress, recognizing these gains and underscoring the strength of America’s commitment to Africa, overwhelmingly approved legislation to reauthorize AGOA for another ten years.

To make the most of this extension – the longest in the program’s history – the US and its African partners need to start working toward a more comprehensive partnership. That journey begins by acknowledging that tariffs are no longer the biggest constraint on trade in Africa. Today, the chief impediments are supply-side constraints, which require well-designed strategies and capacity-building efforts so that AGOA’s members can take full advantage of the program’s benefits.