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Is AGOA truly geared towards Africa’s upliftment?

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Picture: Itumeleng English / Independent Newspapers / Taken November 4, 2023 – US Trade Representative Katherine Tai makes her closing remarks during the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Forum at the Nasrec Expo Centre. Sub-Saharan Africa and the entire Continent should not be controlled by global economy powerhouses regardless of the political tensions that continue around the world, the writer says.

By Thabang Leshabane

It’s been over a month since the 20th African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) took place in Johannesburg, South Africa.

In a bid to reflect on the complex agenda presented at AGOA, one ponders on the year ahead and what is likely to arise from the resolutions tabled and agreed to by Sub-Saharan African leaders and their US counterparts given the taut atmosphere in global geopolitics.

The core mandate of AGOA has been to expand trade and investment relations between Africa and the US, to allow for economic growth as well as to aid in the integration of the region into the global economy.

This mandate, one would presume, was established under the full knowledge that respective countries would maintain their sovereignty amid the trade pact.

In other words, while there has been a mutual willingness to assist Africa to thrive on the global stage and grant eligible countries access to US markets free of tariff barriers, it was also understood that these African countries would not be coerced into submission by the West, be maligned or alienated where they deem it necessary to join forces with other regions such as the East, Asia or the Middle East in a bid to promote vigorous growth.

What has been clear over the latter part of the past two decades since the formation of AGOA is the consistent attempt by the West and the European Union to curtail the concept of sovereignty.

For instance, shortly before the summit kicked off in Nasrec, there were fears over South Africa’s possible expulsion from AGOA. These fears were spurred on by the Ukraine-Russia conflict and SA’s political and economic ties with Russia – relations that span over 30 years.

Experts warned that if the country did not renew the trade agreement this would dent the country’s economy and bring about a devastating impact.

While this mooted expulsion never materialised, it did, however, point out the stark reality that those who dare to align themselves with the East, particularly Russia, are likely to face dire consequences.

If the upliftment of Sub-Saharan Africa is at the core heart of the AGOA agreement, then such fears should never exist, nor should there be a political tug-of-war when it comes to the interests of Africa and her people.

The AGOA 31 member-states in good standing should engage in a mutually beneficial relationship with the US, a relationship that does not seek to deem their light or rights.

It ought to be remembered that sovereign power is absolute.

Meanwhile, the renewal of AGOA was also a prominent feature in the deliberations which included extending the term to 2025 with some leaders calling for a further 10-year expansion which they say will provide companies seeking to invest or expand their operations with a long-lasting solution.

It is common knowledge that trade in Africa has become an important feat as the continent continues to reinforce efforts geared at growing economies across all sectors.

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and BRICS are some of these efforts that have gone a long way in ensuring that this growth takes place.

In essence, all talks around the extension of GOA are vital including suggestions to possibly add more countries.

This move is similar to the decision taken by BRICS early this year to diversify the bloc and allow for additional members to participate so as to chart a clear path for other states and to present a geopolitical alternative to the West.

Therefore, over the next two years, it should be accepted that Sub-Saharan Africa and the entire continent should not be controlled by global economy powerhouses regardless of the political tensions that continue around the world but should rather engage with the West or the Global North in a manner that will bring about effective change beyond 2025.

Thabang Leshabane is a consultant with 20 years of experience in the media industry.