“Trade, Not Aid!” is a cry heard frequently in international affairs, the notion that helping those in the developing world can be done best by helping them to help themselves through expanding commerce in locally produced goods and services. In 2000, the United States heeded the call in a bid to boost development in the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa. Since then, trade between the two regions has grown dramatically, and a recent conference of U.S. and African leaders in Washington assessed the progress of this trade and paved the way for further expansion in the years ahead.
Under a law passed by the U.S. Congress, the African Growth and Opportunity Act, or AGOA, technical assistance is provided and import duties and quotas are lifted on certain goods produced in designated African countries that are making progress in economic and political reforms. Forty-one nations now participate in a system that has spurred business development, created jobs and expanded economic opportunity there. In 2007, AGOA trade increased more than thirteen percent to more than $80 billion.
While more than 6,500 African goods are eligible for duty-free access to the U.S. market under the program, much of the commerce has focused on textiles and petroleum products. Non-energy trade is growing, though, and participants at the recent AGOA forum met to discuss strategies for further expansion and diversification. By the session’s end, there was agreement this could be done by maintaining an investment climate that encourages African businesses to develop and helping them gain greater access to technology and private investment.
“There’s a new spirit of responsibility alive in Africa today,” said U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The African people and many of their governments are meeting their own challenges and creating broad opportunities, connecting their citizens to the world and succeeding in the global economy by doing it themselves.