Americans, Africans debate future of trade program

African leaders must meet demands for better governance and take other steps if they want a program that allows thousands of products to enter the United States duty-free to continue, U.S. officials and Zambia’s president said Friday.

LUSAKA, Zambia (AP) — African leaders must meet demands for better governance and take other steps if they want a program that allows thousands of products to enter the United States duty-free to continue, U.S. officials and Zambia’s president said Friday. Under the African Growth and Opportunity Act, known as AGOA, 37 countries that meet good government and business practice requirements can export thousands of products to the United States duty-free. Washington credits AGOA, which started in 2000 under former President Bill Clinton, with helping increase U.S.-Africa trade. U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said that while President Barrack Obama wants to continue AGOA when it expires in 2015, "simply seeking to extend AGOA is not enough … why should we renew a program that is being underutilized?" Zambian President Rupiah Banda said if Africans want to make better use of the program, they should "strengthen and entrench sound democratic practices and uphold good governance." U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is to address the 10th annual forum of the AGOA later Friday in Zambia’s capital. Rob Davies, South Africa’s trade minister, told reporters this week his country believes AGOA has benefited Africa, and should continue with few changes once the current regime expires in 2015. "We would like to see it rolled over," he said. "We should essentially take the same architecture forward." AGOA covers forest products such as timber, curios, basketry and honey; agricultural products such as peanuts, tomato puree and processed vegetables. Also included are textiles, footwear, handbags and gloves. African entrepreneurs say their governments should do more to ensure small and medium sized businesses know about AGOA and have the capital and tools necessary to benefit. Not far from where the AGOA deliberations were taking place, Masiye Mubita oversees Kabwata Cultural Village, where artisans produce wood carvings, knives and other items for sale to tourists. Mubita told a reporter he tried for the past month to join a group showcasing merchandise at the AGOA Forum, but without success. Mubita said it would be a major break for his group if even two members send merchandise to the U.S. duty free. Jose Fernandez, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for economic, energy and business affairs, said in a speech at in Johannesburg this week that since AGOA was established, Africa’s economies have strengthened, its middle class has grown and that Europe and Asia are competing harder for African business. He said that means that the U.S. has to consider such questions as whether it should be dedicating more resources to bilateral and regional trade agreements. AP writer Donna Bryson in Johannesburg contributed to this report. Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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