Tuesday, January 17, 2023
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NewsUS demands human right investigation to reinstate AGOA privilege

US demands human right investigation to reinstate AGOA privilege

The US urged the Ethiopian government to permit international human rights experts’ access to Ethiopia as a precondition before reinstating Ethiopia’s benefit under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

Tracey Jacobson (Amb.), Chargé d’affaires of the US Embassy in Addis Ababa, told local officials the steps the government must take to regain AGOA eligibility, according to an email response the embassy’s press office sent to The Reporter.

The Ambassador who went to the Hawassa Industrial Park (HIP) this week said that one of these steps is to let international human rights experts into conflict-affected areas of northern Ethiopia.

The park houses international fashion and manufacturing brands such as PVH, H&M, and Tommy Hilfiger, among others. Global wholesalers like the Children’s Place also source from the park.

A substantial number of manufacturers from around the world relocated to the industrial parks in Ethiopia to export their products duty-free to the US market. However, international manufacturers were discouraged as a result of security threats and the war in northern Ethiopia, resulting in layoffs.

The Biden administration issued an executive order in January 2022 delisting Ethiopia from the AGOA benefit. The US government accused Ethiopia of violating the AGOA Statute, related to human rights breaches during the war between the federal government and Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which broke out in November 2020.

The delisting announcement at the time cited gross violations of internationally recognized human rights allegedly perpetrated by the Government of Ethiopia and other parties amid the widening conflict in northern Ethiopia. Still, Ethiopian officials have tried to convince the US government to bring Ethiopia back into the fold, especially after the Pretoria peace agreement ended the two-year war.

Jacobson’s remark gave hints that the reinstatement is unlikely to happen before Ethiopia meets the terms.

The UN established the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia last year in a bid to travel to the conflict areas in northern Ethiopia and investigate human rights breaches and war crimes. But the commissioners have been reporting that the Ethiopian government denied them entry to the conflict area.

On the other hand, the Ethiopian government has been strongly objecting to the commission’s creation, arguing it was formed to politicize the conflict in Ethiopia and hand-twist the government.

AGOA, the United States’ flagship commercial and development policy for sub-Saharan Africa, was established in 2000 and had been in effect for 15 years before the scheme was extended to 2025. The US government is currently considering additional alternatives.

“We’re looking to the 2025 expiration of AGOA and considering what is the best next step,” said Molly Phee on December 7, 2022, Assistant Secretary of the US Department of State’s Bureau of African Affairs. “We regret that AGOA trade preferences have not been utilized to the maximum. We think it’s important to improve our trade with Africa. So that’ll be part of the discussion.”

Whether or not the program is continued needs to be considered, according to Phee. “Is it continued in its current form? Is it modified in some way? And a third element we want to look at is how we can do better to engage with the sort of nascent African Continental Free Trade Area. Are there ways that we can use AGOA to support the development of the free trade area, which holds so much promise for the continent?”

Detailed discussion sessions are expected between US Trade Representative and trade counterparts from Africa, to determine the post-2025 AGOA.

“It will definitely be a robust discussion, and we’re really looking forward to the African ministers coming and giving us their firsthand assessment of what’s working, what’s not working, and what we need to do to update that program,” Phee added.

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