The African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) Forum taking place in South Africa next week will include trade unions for the first time, with more than 80 workers’ representatives to discuss matters that impact workers in trade and investment decisions.
Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition Ebrahim Patel yesterday confirmed that there would be a labour forum for the first time with trade unions from South Africa, the US and other countries from the African continent.
Patel was briefing the media on the state of South Africa’s readiness to host the 20th Agoa Forum in Johannesburg, and how it was set to deepen the trade corridors between South Africa, Africa and the US.
To date, 360 delegates from the US business sector, including the US Chamber of Commerce, together with delegates from Business Unity South Africa (Busa), Black Business Council and Business Leadership South Africa, have registered for the forum.
Patel said South Africa was the largest exporter to the US from the African continent, and that in turn, the country was the biggest market for US exports in southern Africa.
“We have taken steps to reduce barriers on trade. South Africa is the biggest trade market partner in the Sub-Saharan,” Patel said.
In 2022, South African exports under the Most-Favoured Nation agreement accounted for the largest share, approximately 75%, and largest export value of $10.8 billion (R205bn) of the country’s total exports to the US market.
Trade under Agoa accounted for approximately 21% of South Africa's total exports to the US in 2022, increasing in value from $2bn in 2021 to $3bn in 2022.
The Agoa is a US trade programme that provides eligible countries in sub-Saharan Africa with preferential access to the US markets, with the aim of promoting economic growth, reducing poverty, and fostering a stronger trade partnership.
Currently, 35 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have been designated as eligible for Agoa benefits.
Cosatu said decent work must be at the centre of any trade agreements that would take place at the upcoming Agoa Forum.
Cosatu president Zingiswa Losi said they were grateful that the forum would enable workers from various countries to discuss the implications of trade policies such as Agoa.
“Agoa is not just important to South Africa’s industrial development, but also to other African States, in particular our neighbouring countries,” Losi said.
“We also strongly believe that if South Africa were to exit Agoa, it would not only be a devastating blow to local jobs in South Africa, but also to those that are in the region, and it would add pressure to an already unmanageable migration problem for South Africa.
To qualify for Agoa, a country must first be eligible for the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) programme, which applies to 3 400 products from designated beneficiary countries, plus a further 1 450 products from least developed countries. Agoa supplements the GSP with an additional 1 835 products.
In order to qualify, countries must already be GSP beneficiary countries – though GSP eligibility does not imply Agoa eligibility.
In January last year, the US terminated Ethiopia, Mali and Guinea from the Agoa trade preference programme due to actions taken by each of their governments in violation of the Agoa Statute.
The Biden-Harris Administration said it was deeply concerned by the unconstitutional change in governments in both Guinea and Mali, and by the gross violations of internationally recognised human rights being perpetrated by the government of Ethiopia and other parties amid the widening conflict in northern Ethiopia.
Each country has clear benchmarks for a pathway towards reinstatement and the administration will work with their governments to achieve that objective.