Three African Markets Reopen for U.S. Small Businesses

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AGOASmall businesses can launch or resume commercial activities with Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea and Niger now that President Obama has restored trade preferences and other benefits to those countries under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

The centerpiece of the United States’ Africa trade policy, AGOA allows most goods produced in designated countries to enter the U.S. market duty free. That’s a powerful incentive for U.S. small businesses to import goods from those countries, or to invest in export-oriented manufacturing ventures there. According to the most current figures available from the U.S. Department of Commerce, small and medium-sized U.S. businesses accounted for 97.1 percent of identified importers in 2009. 

AGOA became law in 2000 with the aim of expanding U.S. trade and investment in sub-Saharan Africa and stimulating economic integration and growth in the region, thereby facilitating its integration into the global economy. To be eligible for AGOA benefits, which also include access to U.S. credit and technical expertise, countries must show evidence of democratic government, including free and fair elections, and market-oriented economic reforms.

The reinstatement of Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea and Niger on Oct. 25 is good news, “not only for the people of these three African nations, but also for the U.S. businesses and workers trading with and investing in those countries,” said U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk. The three countries lost their eligibility for AGOA benefits following what Washington describes as “undemocratic changes” in their governments. 

The National Black Chamber of Commerce also cheered the reinstatement. “We congratulate the newest nations who are now certified for participation in the Africa Growth and Opportunities Act. Niger, Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea are now ready for enhanced business interaction,” the chamber said in an e-mail blast.

In the case of Cote d’Ivoire, eligibility was withdrawn in 2005 in the wake of a civil war that erupted in 2002. Violence and political unrest intensified this year when former president Laurent Gbagbo refused to cede power to Alassane Ouattara, hailed internationally as the winner of presidential elections held in November 2010. President Ouattara eventually was sworn in May 2011. U.S. officials applaud his moves to improve the business environment and address corruption.

A coup in January 2010 caused Guinea to lose its eligibility. The country came back into U.S. favor later that year when it held “free, fair and credible” presidential elections, putting President Alpha Conde into office. 

In Niger, President Mamadou Tanja’s attempt to retain power by dissolving the national government and changing the constitution resulted in the loss of AGOA eligibility in January 2010. Democratic elections brought President Mahamadou Issoufou to power in April 2011, with commitments to more transparent government, freedom of the press, private sector enhancement, boosting investment, and improving the provision of basic social services.