The United States Government is suspending trade benefits granted under the African Growth and Opportunity Act [AGOA] for Guinea, Niger and Madagascar. President Barack Obama administration announced the decision on December 24, citing a lack of progress in democracy-building, a primary criterion for eligibility in the program. At the same time, the U.S. is reinstating Mauritania in recognition of 2009 elections that followed a 2008 military coup.
"The main point of AGOA is to reward countries that perform well," said Anthony Newton, director of the economic policy staff of the U.S. State Department's Bureau of African Affairs.
AGOA allows African countries to export a variety of textile, food and other products to the United States free of tariffs. U.S. officials view economic and political development as being intertwined and emphasize the need for democratic norms to be met in order to enjoy the trade benefits.
All AGOA countries are reviewed for eligibility every year. Mr. Newton said the suspended countries could be restored before the end of 2010 if they show pronounced improvement, but suspensions occur only on an annual basis.
President Obama's administration has been critical of Guinea's military rulers, especially after troops raped and killed peaceful protestors in a Conakry stadium on September 28.
The United States has also criticized Niger, where President Mamadou Tandja [mah-mah-DOO THAN-jah] has undermined Niger's democratic institutions so that he could extend his term in office. On December 23 the State Department announced it is also suspending non-humanitarian assistance to Niger and imposing travel restrictions on some of its leaders.
Mr. Newton said the decision to suspend Madagascar was "fairly complicated," since a democracy-restoration process had been launched in the country following its March 2009 coup, including the installation of a transitional government and elections proposed for 2010.
"The process was full of fits and starts. . .but until recently it was moving forward," said Mr. Newton. However, over the past two weeks interim President Andry Rajoelina has "subverted the process" and barred political opposition leaders from the country.
"In light of all that, we have taken the decision to suspend or to terminate Madagascar's eligibility," said Mr. Newton. "We didn't do this lightly."
Mr. Newton noted, "The point is that governments that don’t demonstrate good governance or adherence to democratic norms, unfortunately, find themselves in the position of being terminated from AGOA benefits." The U.S. is committed to promoting good governance as well as economic development.