34 African ambassadors lobby U.S. Congress for AGOA reauthorization, send letter to Paul Ryan

Ambassadors and other diplomats from 34 African countries have signed a letter sent to Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), chairman of the Committee on Ways & Means in the U.S. House of Representatives, urging early action to reauthorize the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which is due to expire in September.

Issued on joint letterhead from the embassies of Lesotho and Gabon, the letter calls AGOA “the cornerstone of the U.S.-Africa relationship.” (Lesotho’s Ambassador Eliachim Molapi Sebatane and Gabon’s Ambassador Michael Moussa-Adamo are co-chairs of the economic development committee of the African Ambassadors Group.)

Because AGOA deals largely with taxes, tariffs, and duties, the House Ways & Means Committee has primary jurisdiction over it. Ryan, as the committee chair, will be a key player in shepherding AGOA reauthorization through the House of Representatives.

The text of the letter, dated March 4, reads:

We, the undersigned ambassadors of AGOA-eligible countries, wish to express our most sincere appreciation to the U.S. Congress for the benefits provided to our countries under AGOA, for its positive contribution to economic growth, opportunity and in strengthening the U.S.-Africa strategic partnership. We also wish to seize this opportunity to underscore the urgency felt in our individual nations regarding AGOA’s anticipated reauthorization.

AGOA-AmbassadorsAGOA has been widely identified as the cornerstone of the U.S.-Africa relationship, and it has indeed ensured that the close commercial ties of Africa and the U.S. have deepened in the face of ever increasing global competition for economic engagement. The preferences that it provides have fostered a mutually beneficial partnership that has allowed for enhanced trade, better business environments, and increased stability and security in a region that is now considered the fastest growing in the world. AGOA is also directly addressing one of the biggest problems faced on the continent – the employment of youth and women. With the youngest population in the world and in a global landscape where youth unemployment can lead to insecurity, AGOA presents a valuable and effective instrument for this key constituency in African economies by creating hundreds of thousands of jobs.

The upcoming expiration of the legislation in less than 6 months will soon, however, begin to affect these gains because export orders for the biggest sectors benefiting under AGOA are placed up to nine months in advance. Past experience has shown that the lack of confidence by investors and buyers arising out of the uncertainty surrounding reauthorization is enough for severe losses to take place. For example, in 2012, when the Third Country Fabric Provision of AGOA was renewed only weeks before its expiration exports of key sectors were down over 10% and tens of thousands of people lost their jobs. The same situation is highly likely to repeat itself in an even larger magnitude should AGOA not be reauthorized by March 2015. The intention of this letter is to prevent massive job losses, instability, and the erosion of the commendable economic achievements of this legislation while it is still possible.

We are grateful for the bicameral and bipartisan support that Africa and AGOA have enjoyed, and the positive reception that the recent African Union mandated ministerial-delegation and our embassies have received in our discussions with members of Congress and their staff. As recommended by our African Heads of State and Government during the 2014 U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, a 15-year reauthorization would ensure a predictable environment for both U.S.-Africa businesses to thrive and allow the realization of Africa’s developmental aspirations. Support for AGOA’s long-term reauthorization has been widespread, and we hope that this clear consensus will allow for the seamless reauthorization of a stand-alone bill that can hopefully pass expeditiously in Congress. We highly appreciate your leadership and would be grateful for your support to highlight the urgency that our countries feel about AGOA’s reauthorization in Congress.

We again thank you for your attention to this matter that is of utmost importance to our strategic partnership. We value your contribution to the strengthening of the U.S.-Africa relations.

In addition to the ambassadors of Gabon and Lesotho, the letter was signed by the ambassadors to the United States from Angola, Benin, Burundi, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, Chad, Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, and Zambia, as well as the deputy chiefs of mission or chargé d’affaires of Botswana, Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Niger, and Rwanda.

Although no bill for reauthorizing AGOA has yet been introduced in either the House of Representatives or the Senate, those close to the issue expect that a bill will be filed before the end of April.