AGOA Trade and Economic Cooperation Forum

By Michael Currin

Michael Currin GCIS DDGGrowing business, trade and investment ties between sub-Saharan African nations that are part of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act and the United States (US) holds enormous benefits for the two regions. 

Last year the combined two-way trade between AGOA beneficiaries and the United States exceeded $46 billion and there is strong potential for further growth as trade and investment is deepened.
These trade and investment opportunities will be explored at the 2023 AGOA Trade and Economic Cooperation Forum, which is being hosted by South Africa at the Johannesburg Expo Centre from 2-4 November 2023.
The forum, attended by a senior delegation from the United States and 35 Sub-Saharan Africa Trade Ministers, will seek to strengthen trade and investment. Moreover, with African Regional Economic Communities, civil society, organised and business representatives in attendance, it also encourages regional integration.

There is ample room for growth between the US and Africa, particularly in the critical mineral value chain which is at the centre of the global clean energy transition. The continent is a major producer of cobalt, copper, bauxite, chromium, high purity iron ore, platinum group metals and lithium which is needed for the global energy transition.

Those who partner with the continent will have access to these critical resources to spur on and benefit from the clean energy revolution. The International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2022 foresees demand for these critical minerals more than doubling by 2030 and quadrupling by 2050. 

The forum also reaffirms Africa as a capable economic partner and a lucrative destination for growth and investment. Sub-Saharan African economies are on the rise following the impact of COVD-19 with the International Monetary Fund's Regional Economic Outlook forecasting their growth by 4.2 per cent in 2024 from 3,6 per cent in 2023.

Alongside the forum will be the Made in Africa exhibition that will display the products of more than 500 companies from across Sub-Saharan Africa. It will exhibit the region’s agricultural, automotive, chemicals, metals and minerals, mining and machinery, clothing and textiles, leather and footwear and the boatbuilding sector products.

Significantly, this forum is the last engagement hosted in Sub-Saharan African before the expiry of the current iteration of the African Growth and Opportunity Act in June 2025.  AGOA has been at the core of United States economic policy and commercial engagement with Africa. 

It was signed into law on 18 May 2000 to provide duty-free exports of goods from 40 sub-Saharan African countries to the United States, giving them a competitive advantage in the lucrative US market. 

There are over 5240 tariff items that qualify for the AGOA ranging from apparel and footwear, wine, certain motor vehicle components, a variety of agricultural products, chemicals as well as steel.

The 2023 AGOA Trade and Economic Cooperation Forum is an opportunity to lobby for the renewal of AGOA beyond 2025 as a mutually beneficial platform for global exchange and growth for the industries involved, and as a gateway to the vibrant African market. An extension of AGOA will promote inward investment in Africa and deepen the impact of industrialisation on the continent.  

Furthermore, it will also support our efforts to increase trade through the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) that covers 54 countries and 1.4 billion people. It is anticipated that Africa’s trade will be greatly boosted by AfCFTA and the US stands to gain access to a single market, which is projected to grow to 1.7 billion people and $6.7 trillion in consumer and business spending by 2030. 

The trade relationship between the US and South Africa has greatly benefitted from the AGOA agreement. 

South Africa remains a key source of raw materials for the American economy and has become one of the region’s top 3 exporters to the US. The most success has been in our automobile sector which is the country’s biggest single beneficiary of the programme. Our local citrus industry has also benefited with the Western Cape exporting approximately R1.6 billion worth of citrus to the US under AGOA in 2022. 

Other leading exports to the US included iron and steel, edible fruits, organic chemicals and precious stones. It helped create a total of 62 395 direct and indirect jobs, while overall AGOA generated an estimated 350 000 direct and 1.3-million indirect jobs in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

South Africa looks forward to welcoming stakeholders from the US and across the continent to the forum. The stronger ties will ensure reciprocal trade and investment that will benefit both the US and Africa.

*Michael Currin is the Deputy Director-General of Intergovernmental Coordination and  Stakeholder Management (ICSM) at Government Communication and Information System (GCIS).