Because Africa, and the continent's continuing development, is a top priority of the United States, the African Growth and Opportunity Act, or AGOA stands as a cornerstone of U.S. policy across that region.
AGOA provides beneficiary countries in sub-Saharan Africa that do not already have a free trade agreement with the United States, liberal access to U.S. markets. It reinforces African reform efforts, provides improved access to U.S. credit and technical expertise, and establishes a high-level dialogue on trade and investment in the form of the annual U.S.-Sub-Saharan Africa Trade and Economic Forum. Since its implementation in the summer of 2000, AGOA has helped increase investment and trade between the United States and member countries thus creating jobs and spurring economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa.
Speaking on the occasion of AGOA's tenth anniversary last June, Rosa Whitaker, former Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Africa who helped develop the program said that "Aid just cannot get you the results that trade can, and that is just a fact. If you look at any region of the world, there is not any region that has developed without entrepreneurs developing the private sector in those countries."
But the AGOA act expires in 2015, and its renewal is in doubt. Thus, at a recent panel discussion about the future of AGOA, Stephen Hayes, President of the non-profit Corporate Council on Africa said that AGOA provides an opportunity for the United States to work with Africans to develop Africa in line with their wishes, and also to help Africa develop in terms of America’s social and economic and political policy.
This is crucial, because a broad middle class helps to stabilize the economy and civil society, and thus the country as a whole. But without a thriving private sector creating new jobs, there will be no middle class, and consequently, no tax base. So the development of a viable private sector is of the highest importance. Just as important are capacity building, and investments in education and infrastructure development.
"The U.S.-Africa relationship is vital to the long-term interest of the United States,” said Stephen Hayes. "We have to give the development of the African economy one of our highest national priorities."