Former President George Bush signing AGOA

( – The Trump administration can’t seem to find an existing trade or aid bill for Africa that it likes enough to renew. The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA)– eagerly signed and extended by Presidents Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama – is the latest economic development program in the crosshairs of the new U.S. doctrine of “America First.”

This month, the annual AGOA Forum, held in the coastal city of Lome, Togo, was attended by 40 African finance and trade ministers, the top U.S. trade negotiator, Robert E. Lighthizer, and a large delegation of senior U.S. government officials.

The Forum was titled “The US and Africa: Partnering for Prosperity through Trade” but the optimism was belied by the outcome – no decision on renewing the agreement that expires in eight years.

Under AGOA, some 6,500 items, including textiles, steel, chemicals and numerous agricultural products are approved for duty-free export to the U.S., enhancing market access to U.S. buyers.

It has been the cornerstone of the US government’s trade policy with sub-Saharan Africa since 2000.

Thirty-nine countries qualify for AGOA benefits with five – Angola, Nigeria, South Africa, Chad and Gabon – the top beneficiaries. Angola, for example, exported oil and diamonds worth $115 billion in 2014. Lesotho, making garments for Levi’s and Walmart, exported $250 million in 2016.

Kenya, which exported products to the U.S. worth $394 million in 2016, was nearly stripped of AGOA status when it joined the East African Community (EAC) to ban imported second-hand clothes and shoes by 2019. Kenya finally agreed to accept the used garments, resolving a complaint by a U.S. trade group, but EAC members Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, who claim used American clothes will hurt their own growing textile industry, now face an “out-of-cycle” review.

The turnaround “is, no doubt, a victory for Kenya’s trade diplomacy,” said Abdirizak Musa, an embassy official. But just to ensure their “victory,” Kenya hired a Washington lobbying firm with ties to the Trump administration at the rate of $100,000 monthly for three months.

Meanwhile, other programs on the chopping block include the U.S. African Development Foundation, and funding for U.N. peacekeeping operations. Current pledges to treat HIV/AIDS in Africa— known as PEPFAR and which provides life-saving treatment for 11.5 million people – appear to be safe for now.

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