The AGOA Forum held in Washington this week was full of encouraging words about solid trade relationships with sub-Saharan African countries, glowing statistics about Africans exporting more products to the United States and assurances from top U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, that Africa matters to America.
But many African ministers, including a delegation from Mauritius, headed home after the conference wrapped up on Friday with a deflated sense of accomplishment, as one of their key issues – extension of an important fabric provision under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) – remains stuck in Congress.
The so-called Third Country Fabric Rule is a key part of the trade law that has encouraged the growth of Africa textile and apparel manufacturing to the point of record exports to the United States.
It allows AGOA beneficiary countries to source cloth and fabric from places like China, India or Bangladesh and still qualify for AGOA’s duty-free, quota-free benefits. Before the provision was added in 2002, only African-made textiles and apparel that were wholly or partly made in Africa or the United States could qualify. The provision expires on Sept. 30, and currently accounts for 95 percent of U.S. apparel imports under AGOA.
The issue will likely be resolved with lawmakers passing an extension of the provision – probably within the next few weeks, Foreign Minister Arvin Boolell told Weekend after meeting with congressional and Obama administration officials during the Forum.