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The US Trade Representative, Tai, Discusses Trade Policy in Africa as Summit Concludes.
Africa Economy

The US Trade Representative, Tai, Discusses Trade Policy in Africa as Summit Concludes.

The yearly meeting of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which grants duty-free entry to the U.S. economy for qualifying countries in sub-Saharan Africa since 2000, concluded 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.

In order to qualify for AGOA, countries must uphold the principles of law and safeguard human rights. On Monday, President Joe Biden of the United States announced that four countries would be removed from AGOA: Niger and Gabon for overthrowing their governments, and the Central African Republic and Uganda for their violations of human rights.

Over the weekend, Katherine Tai, the U.S. Trade Representative, had a discussion with multiple journalists to respond to inquiries regarding the future of AGOA. The transcript below has been shortened and clarified for better understanding.

According to VOA, China holds the title of being Africa’s primary trade ally. This raises the question of how the US can effectively compete and what are the contrasting trade strategies of these two nations when it comes to engaging with Africa?

Katherine Tai, the U.S. Trade Representative, emphasized the foundation of our relationship with the countries of Africa. Our partnership is inherently important for the United States, driven by our historical connections, people-to-people relationships, and shared cultural and historical experiences. These factors serve as the cornerstone of our alliance.

Looking ahead, we examine the population makeup of Africa. By 2050, one out of every four individuals on Earth will be from Africa. When comparing the median age of Africa’s population to other regions, it becomes evident that Africa is the future. The potential of Africa, both in terms of human and economic potential, is another factor that highlights the importance of partnering with Africa as we plan for our own future. This is the underlying motive for our presence here.

Regarding your inquiry about China, their impact on global trade is significant. This is a commonly discussed topic in various international discussions. Our belief is that the United States offers a unique type of partnership that differs from other countries, which is why we are committed to strengthening and expanding our relationship with Africa.

Tai responded to inquiries from other journalists about the United States’ interactions with African nations.

A: A delegate from an African nation expressed their dislike for the imposition of Western democracy on Africa. How do you handle this situation?

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.

What is the current state of the U.S. and South Africa’s relationship, considering South Africa’s position on the Ukraine crisis?

I am the U.S. trade representative, meaning I am part of the economic policy team. I would like to discuss the economic relationship between the U.S. and South Africa. We must recognize that our world is constantly evolving and becoming more intricate. However, I believe that the overall relationship, as well as the connections on a personal level, are robust, particularly in terms of economics which is my area of expertise.

We must all learn to navigate the intricacies of this world. I am quite confident, particularly in terms of economics, that we have successfully navigated through turbulent times this year and will continue to do our best in the future. During this trip and at this forum, the South African government has shown its strong commitment to the economic partnership with the United States.

What is your perspective on the ongoing issue of Africa’s desire for development and the hindrance caused by exporting raw materials instead of developing skills within the continent?

Tai: In my understanding, the topic of discussion is how Africa and its countries can progress in the value chain and become more industrialized. I believe this is a key challenge in economic development. The United States is also currently focusing on a project to reindustrialize after a period of deindustrialization, making for thought-provoking discussions during my visit here.

I believe this is a very significant question that we must all address. My intuition tells me that as globalization progresses, it must evolve in a more effective way than before. The next phase of globalization should include a development plan that focuses on how advanced and emerging economies can partner to create mutually beneficial solutions for development.

I believe the fundamental concept is centered around President Biden’s perspective of rebuilding and revitalizing the middle class. How can trade policy be utilized to assist in the growth of our respective middle classes?

How can we approach this issue without creating a divide between our middle class and yours, or pitting our workers against yours? How can we shift our perspective to view trade as a collaborative effort rather than a ruthless competition? I have had the honor of collaborating with our African counterparts to address this challenge.

A: Some Republican members of Congress have expressed concerns about the administration’s enforcement of eligibility. How do you respond to those concerns?

Tai: I am uncertain of the specific individuals that may face suspension from AGOA, as there is a thorough yearly evaluation process that requires careful consideration and difficult decisions.

This script has been updated to make it clear that VOA asked the U.S. trade representative one question.