Senate passes African trade pact

AGOA version includes language to try to ensure fair trade resumes in all commodities, including chicken.

The U.S. Senate on Thursday voted by an overwhelming vote of 97-1 to extend for 10 years the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which gives non-reciprocal trade preferences for African countries that meet its eligibility requirements. Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma was the lone “no” vote.

The Senate version requires the Office to the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to launch a review of South Africa’s eligibility within 30 days of President Barack Obama signing the renewal bill into law. This language was offered by Sen. Johnny Isakson (R., Ga.) during a Senate Finance Committee mark-up of the bill on April 22 and was approved unanimously by voice vote. Isakson and Sen. Chris Coons (D., Del.) have been instrumental in fighting to ensure that fair trade in all commodities, including chicken, resumes between the United States and South Africa.

National Chicken Council president Mike Brown applauded the work of Isakson and Coons for their leadership in resolving the issue and for their hard work in reauthorizing AGOA.

The House of Representatives is expected to adopt its own version of the legislation, but timing is uncertain, NCC said. The South Africa review is not mandatory in the House bill as it currently stands. Once the House passes its version of the bill, it will conference with the Senate to work out the differences between the two bills, before heading to the president’s desk for his signature into law.

The bill, HR. 1295 as amended through S. 1267, The Trade Preferences Extension Act of 2015, touts the AGOA program as the center of United States’ economic relationship with sub-Saharan Africa enhancing trade, investment, job creation, democratic institutions, development, and poverty reduction through trade and investment. Congress says that it is in the United States’ long term economic interest to increase trade with emerging markets and enhance economic and political ties with some of the fastest growing economies and markets in the world.

In that same vein, the value of these agreements to the United States can only be fully realized if the trade is truly fair, and both parties uphold their end of the bargain. The Committee’s accompanying report which describes the bill outlines Congress’s concerns with South Africa:

“The Committee is increasingly concerned with market access and investment barriers in many sub-Saharan countries, most notably South Africa. Thus the bill includes Congressional findings that the elimination of trade barriers in sub-Saharan Africa, including high tariffs, forced localization requirements, restrictions on investment, and customs barriers, will create opportunities for workers, businesses, farmers, and ranchers in the United States and sub-Saharan African countries….”

This week, Isakson and Coons wrote to USTR Michael Froman expressing their concerns with South Africa wrongfully blocking U.S. chicken from its market for the last 15 years. The Senators asked USTR for support and commitment in resolving this issue should AGOA ultimately be signed into law. Ambassador Froman promptly responded, declaring his personal support and the administration’s support for using all tools at their disposal for resolving this issue as quickly as possible, should AGOA be renewed in the form it currently stands as passed out of the Senate. The Senators’ letter is available here.  Froman’s response is available here.

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