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US Trade Envoy Tai Talks Trade Policy in Africa as Summit Ends

JOHANNESBURG — The annual summit of the African Growth and Opportunity Act — a program that has provided eligible sub-Saharan African countries with duty-free access to the U.S. economy since 2000 — wrapped up in South Africa on Saturday.

Under AGOA, total goods imports into the United States were worth about $10 billion in 2022, compared with $6.8 billion in 2021. African leaders are asking the U.S. Congress to renew the trade policy for another 10 years or more before it expires in 2025.

To be eligible for AGOA, nations must respect the rule of law and protect human rights. On Monday, U.S. President Joe Biden said four countries would be dropped from AGOA: Niger and Gabon for coup d’etats, and the Central African Republic and Uganda for human rights violations.

On Saturday, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai sat down with several reporters to answer questions about AGOA’s future. The following transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity:

VOA: China is Africa’s largest trade partner; how can the U.S. compete and how do the two countries’ approaches to trade with Africa differ?

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai: Let me start … with what the basis for our relationship is, which is that the U.S. partnership with the countries of Africa is inherently valuable vis-à-vis ourselves, first and foremost. Our historical ties, our people-to-people ties, the fact that the United States grew out of our own colonial past, there are so many points of shared cultural, historical narrative. That is the cornerstone of our partnership.

Beyond that, we look at the demographics of Africa. … By the year 2050, one in four human beings on this planet will be African. Then you look at the median age of the population in Africa and you compare it to the median age in different places and you realize that the future is Africa. The potential — human potential, the economic potential — of Africa, that is another reason why we know that charting our own path for the future necessarily involves partnership with Africa. So, there is the reason why we are here.

Separately, let me turn to your question on China. Yes, China’s footprint in the global economy in terms of trade is enormous. We know that; that is true in many of our conversations around the world. We feel very strongly that the type of partnership the United States brings and can bring is inherently different from what other partners bring and that is why we are focused on enhancing and building on a U.S. partnership with Africa.

Tai addressed other reporters’ questions regarding the U.S. relationship with countries in Africa.

Q: Yesterday, a representative of an African country told me ‘We don’t want Western democracy imposed on Africa.’ How do you cope with this?

Tai: Obviously there’s not just one form of democracy, we all have our versions of democracy. But broadly speaking, I think when we talk about democracy, you break it down, it’s about a system of government where the people have the right and power to select their government. … I don’t think AGOA dictates the specific kind of democracy, I think the way that I have phrased it is AGOA is set up to support African solutions to the political and economic reforms that AGOA’s meant to encourage.

Q: How is the U.S. relationship with South Africa, owing to South Africa’s stance on the Ukraine crisis?

Tai: Now recall I’m the U.S. trade representative, so I am an economic policy team member. So let me focus on the U.S.-South Africa economic relationship. Let’s acknowledge that we live in a very complex world that is only becoming more complicated. That said, I think that the relationship overall, and the relationships on a more human level, are strong, on the economic side, which is where my competency lies. …

We all need to figure out how to navigate this complex world, and I have a high degree of confidence, at least on the economic side, that we have managed to navigate some choppy waters this year and that we will continue to do our best to do so. I think the South African government, on this trip, at this forum, has indicated the strength of its support for the economic relationship with the United States.

VOA: It has been a thorny issue, Africa wants to be developed, and as long as we continue to send raw materials outside of Africa, we are not going to learn the skills. What’s your view?

Tai: As I understand it, you’re talking about: How does Africa and the countries in Africa move up the value chain and industrialize? And I think that that is the challenge of economic development. We in the United States are focused also on a reindustrialization project, having gone through a period of deindustrialization, so it’s made for a period of very interesting conversations while I’ve been here.

I think that that is a tremendously important question that we all have to figure out. In my instincts, I feel convinced that as globalization evolves, because we see that it is needing to evolve … the next iteration of globalization should do a better job than this past one. … This next one has to involve a development program that looks at how we can more effectively partner between advanced economies and emerging economies to provide a win-win solution to development.

And I think that the basic principle is going to be, if you take President Biden’s outlook, that we’re trying to rebuild and reinvigorate our middle class, how through trade policy could we help each other build our middle classes?

How do we do it in a way that we’re not pitting our middle class against your middle class, our workers against your workers? How do we think more about trade being a complementary exercise as opposed to a cut-throat competition? … I have been really, really privileged to work with our partners on the African continent on how we solve that problem.

Q: We’ve heard, especially from Republican members of Congress, that they are going to want to look at enforcement of eligibility because some of them have said they don’t think the administration is doing a good job of implementing enforcement. So, what do you say to that?

Tai: I don’t know who exactly else they would like to suspend from AGOA, but there is an annual review process, it is a very rigorous process … a lot of deliberation goes into it and the calls are not easy.

Source : VOA News