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OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by and welcome to the 2019 AGOA briefing. At this time all lines are in a listen-only mode. If you need assistance, please press *0. As a reminder, today’s call is being recorded and I’ll turn the conference over to Tiffany Jackson-Zunker. Please go ahead.
MODERATOR: Good afternoon to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub. I would like to welcome our participants dialing in from across the continent and thank all of you for joining this discussion. Today, we are very pleased to be joined by Ambassador Tibor P. Nagy, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs, and Constance Hamilton, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Africa. Ambassador Nagy and Ms. Hamilton will discuss the United States and Ivory Coast co-hosting the African Growth and Opportunity Act, or “AGOA”, Forum in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, August 4th through 6th. Our speakers are joining us from Washington, D.C.
We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from Ambassador Nagy and Ms. Hamilton and then we will turn to your questions. We will try to get to as many of them as we can during the time that we have, which is approximately 45 minutes. At any time during the call, if you would like to ask a question, you must press *1 on your phone to join the question and answer queue. If you would like to join the conversation on Twitter, please use the hashtag #AFHubPress and follow the handle @africamediahub.
As a reminder, today’s call is on the record, and with that, I will turn it over to Ms. Constance Hamilton, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Africa, and Ambassador Tibor P. Nagy, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs.
AMB. NAGY: Thank you very much, Tiffany. Good afternoon and good morning, wherever you are out there. I am honored to be joined on this call by the Assistant U.S. Trade Representative, Connie Hamilton. We’ll just make some brief introductory remarks so that we can do as many questions as possible. The AGOA forum, where both of us will be participating, is one of the key components of U.S.-Africa strategy. Our whole focus, and our primary focus, for the administration, is primarily significantly increasing our trade and investment with the continent as a mechanism for growing Africa’s prosperity and for providing jobs for what we have termed “Africa’s emerging youth tsunami,” because, as we have said before, all those millions of young people, what they really want and what they really need are jobs, jobs, and good jobs.
Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Connie Hamilton will be providing the extensive background on AGOA and on the U.S. government’s focus on free trade agreements. I do want to highlight that this forum is in parallel with a number of other major initiatives by the administration to boost our trade and investment with Africa, again, so that we can really leap towards Africa’s prosperity. One of those, which was recently announced at the Corporate Council for Africa Summit in Maputo is Prosper Africa, which will be a major initiative. Then another one, which was announced earlier, is the Build Act, which will lead to the creation of the International Development Finance Corporation and double OPIC’s available capital for investment in Africa and other developing countries to $60 billion, and then a new policy announced for the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which will allow MCC to do regional compacts instead of bilateral compacts.
So with that brief introduction, I would like to turn it over to my colleague for her remarks.
MS. HAMILTON: Thank you, Tibor, and welcome to everyone who’s on this call. Let me just briefly give you an overview of where we are with the AGOA program. For almost two decades, AGOA has been the cornerstone of the United States’ economic engagement with sub-Saharan Africa, and during that time we have invested heavily to help African countries better utilize AGOA, including creation of the trade hubs as resources for African businesses and entrepreneurs, and allocating more than $7 billion for trade capacity building initiatives.
While AGOA has brought important benefits, we recognize that the benefits are uneven, and there remains more that can be done to realize the full potential of U.S.-African trade. Our experience over these past 19 years shows not only the benefits of trade preferences like AGOA, but the limitations. And as successful as AGOA has been, its benefits have not been broadly shared by all the countries that are part of the program. Last year, the top five AGOA beneficiaries accounted for more than 75% of AGOA exports. In the strategic textiles and apparel sector, the top five countries accounted for 95% of AGOA apparel exports.
Additionally, AGOA has not led to the trade diversification for which we originally hoped. Petroleum products continued to account for the largest portion of AGOA imports, with a 67% share. And the volume of AGOA trade remains modest. In the AGOA clothing sector, for example, we get about $1 billion per year from Africa, but that’s just roughly 1% of the United States’ $95 billion imports in global clothing imports. To maximize AGOA, countries must take an active role in creating the competitive conditions in which companies, entrepreneurs, and farmers can thrive. The AGOA’s eligibility criteria were designed to help improve these conditions.
We encourage our AGOA partners that have not yet completed an AGOA utilization strategy to work with their U.S. regional hub to do so. Only by easing the ability of the private sector to start and grow their businesses can African countries hope to provide the jobs for Africa’s youth and maximize the potential of the youth bulge.
Governments can also consider taking steps to address important constraints to doing business, particularly for smaller businesses, such as providing technical support to help businesses improve competitiveness and helping more farmers and women micro-entrepreneurs participate in AGOA trade.
And to that, let me just now say a few words about our new FTA Model Initiative. AGOA is scheduled to expire in six years, in 2025. It would be irresponsible of us not to plan for what comes next. Our vision is to begin by establishing an agreement with an African partner that can serve as a model for other future agreements on the continent.
Our ultimate objective is to have a network of agreements in place that could serve as building blocks to an eventual continental trade partnership with the United States—a true Africa-U.S. trade partnership for the 21st century. We believe that future U.S. trade agreements on the continent can be crafted to complement and contribute to Africa’s regional integration objectives under the AfCFTA.
Africa is a top priority for the U.S. government. We see tremendous opportunities in this relationship. We want to work with our partners to unlock those gains. These issues, and more, will be discussed at the AGOA Forum. Thank you.
AMB. NAGY: Over to you guys.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Thank you Ambassador Nagy, Ms. Hamilton. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call. For those asking questions, please state your name and affiliation and limit yourself to one question related to the topic of today’s briefing: the upcoming AGOA forum in Abidjan, Ivory Coast and how the U.S. and Africa can deepen trade and investment ties.
I would like to note we have a very full call today, so if you could please keep your questions very brief and not have long introductory remarks, we can get to many more questions.
For those of you listening to the call in English, please press *1 on your phone to join the question queue. If you are using a speakerphone, you may need to pick up the handset before entering *1. For those of you listening to the call in French and Portuguese, we have received some of your questions submitted in advance by email and you may continue to submit your questions in English via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our first question will go to the listening party at the U.S. embassy in Lagos, Nigeria. Operator, can you open the line, please?
Hello, operator? Could you open the line, please, to Ayo Durodola?
OPERATOR: One moment, please. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Okay, I’m Solomon [UNCLEAR] from Nigeria. I want to ask, is the United States government considering including [UNCLEAR] infrastructure projects as part of AGOA projects in the next few years? Thank you.
MS. HAMILTON: I’m sorry, are you asking if we’re going to do infrastructure development?
AMB. NAGY: With AGOA.
MS. HAMILTON: Not with AGOA, but we do have the MCC program and other things, but let me turn to Tibor. He may want to…
AMB. NAGY: Yeah, remember: AGOA is basically for exports from Africa to the United States. When you’re talking about infrastructure projects in Africa, that would be much more under the purview of, say, the Millennium Challenge Corporation projects, or OPIC finance projects. U.S. private sector would be going to OPIC with proposals on whether it’s equity or some other form of project, or under Prosper Africa, working with our embassies or our trade hubs to identify other partners or local partners. So those two are just very, very distinct features of U.S. policy. And that’s one of the things that the new Build Act is specifically meant to promote, are those types of projects. That’s why the funding available is being doubled to $60 billion effective October 1. Over.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from the U.S. embassy listening party in Bamako, Mali. Mohamed Dangnoko from Le Combat asks, “After the 17th annual forum on trade and cooperation between the United States and sub-Saharan Africa in July 2018, what are the major changes in trade relations with Africa in general, but particularly with Mali?”
MS. HAMILTON: I think the major change and what we’re trying to do is shift from the preferences of AGOA to a more reciprocal relationship, because we do think that the benefits to both African partners and to the United States will be greater. As I said earlier in my remarks, I think that AGOA has done some fantastic things, but I do not think that AGOA has been the game-changer for many countries on the continent that we hoped it would be. We do believe that the FTA process, by joining an agreement that really is reciprocal, it will drive the kind of foreign direct investment that our partners on the continent are looking for, especially coming from the United States.
And so I think the major change is sort of this transition from preferences, which we have to do because Congress has decided to end AGOA in 2025 and we have to start thinking about the next stage in that. But I think that’s the major difference between this forum and what we talked about last year.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will come from Prinesha Naidoo in South Africa, from Bloomberg News. Operator, can you open the line, please?
OPERATOR: Okay, your line is open.
QUESTION: Thanks. I just wanted to clarify; AGOA will be allowed to expire in 2025, and what is going to replace it?
MS. HAMILTON: Well, that’s the conversation that we’re having now. You’ll recall that a couple years ago, the United States wanted to start engaging at the AGOA forum this conversation that we called “Beyond AGOA,” because we realized that when Congress extended the program for 10 years, they did put an end date of 2025. Whether or not anything will change with that, we just don’t know, but we do believe that it’s time to start thinking about what could happen in 2025 and what needs to happen next. And so yes, the program is scheduled to expire. That’s about six years. Six years in trade terms is a nanosecond; that’s going to go by really quickly. That’s why we’re starting the conversations now with our partners to talk about what comes next. We do think that a free-trade area agreement builds on the success of AGOA in ways that it helps lock in the benefits the countries have already with AGOA, but it also provides the incentive to U.S. investors to do more on the continent. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question was sent in advance from Oyetungi Abioye from Punch Newspaper in Lagos, Nigeria, and he asks, “Why do you think Nigerian companies have not been able to more efficiently key into the business opportunities offered by AGOA, and what role does the Nigerian government need to play to boost AGOA?
MS. HAMILTON: I think that Nigeria has not taken advantage of AGOA because they send us mainly oil, so in a certain extent, to answer your question, they actually are taking advantage of it—probably more than some of the other countries—but it is petroleum. And oil doesn’t really create the kind of jobs or other benefits from trade that I think that countries are looking for.
So I think that Nigeria, and I think the new government is talking about trying to expand and go beyond just petroleum production and get into other things, but that really is a question for what Nigeria wants to see happen. You’re part of ECOWAS. ECOWAS is always talking about the liberalization of trade barriers, removing those barriers to trade and investment. I think that the fact that Nigeria has now joined the conversation with the Continental Free-Trade Area Agreement ; it will also be submitting its commitments on liberalization, those are opportunities to open up the Nigerian market in many, many ways, not just for the United States and other partners outside of Africa, but also within the region.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will go to Gary Raynaldo from Diplomatic Times in Washington, D.C. Operator, open the line please.
OPERATOR: Your line is open.
QUESTION: Good morning here. I’m Gary Raynaldo with Diplomatic Times. Good morning to Madam Hamilton, good morning Ambassador Nagy. My question is what are your experiences around the African Union’s Africa free-trade plans, and more importantly, the ECOWAS single currency creation program for the Francophone West African nations. Do you think these programs will actively enhance the AGOA goals, or so you see any barriers or any conflicts? Thank you.
MS. HAMILTON: Let me just start by saying that we are actually very pleased with what’s happening in terms of regional integration on the continent. We support a lot of the objectives of the AfCFTA. We do believe that lowering barriers to trade and investment and boosting competitiveness, attracting investment, those are things that we have long supported in our own engagement with the continent, so we are very pleased about the progress that they’re making. We compliment the African Union, its partner states, all the stakeholders who have worked tirelessly to get this thing launched. We think this is something great for the continent.
I do think that the hardest part is going to be the implementation. They have a lot of hard work to do. We hope to be as helpful as possible from our end, but we do think that it’s a good step. I’m not familiar with the other program that you mentioned.
AMB. NAGY: The plan for ECOWAS, to introduce an ECOWAS currency in 2020. They had planned that several times in the past, and they’ve had to delay the implementation, and we’ll just see what happens in 2020. Obviously, the United States of America supports the sub-regional trade blocs and organizations like ECOWAS in Africa, but that is purely a decision for ECOWAS to make regarding its own economic interests. Over.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question came from the listening party in Lagos, Nigeria, from Paul Obuokiri from New Telegraph. He asks, “Can the United States use AGOA to reposition itself in Africa in the face of stiff competition by China?”
MS. HAMILTON: I think we have to remember that AGOA is just a preference program. What it does is it opens the door for opportunities for entrepreneurs and farmers and businesspeople to get their products into the United States market, and to that extent I think AGOA has been successful in some ways. It has changed the conversation about Africa as a good partner, and I think that that’s been very positive.
But AGOA is not a magic bullet; it doesn’t solve every single problem. I do think that there are areas on the continent where we can work with China to improve, especially on infrastructure and things like that, but let me turn it over to Tibor.
AMB. NAGY: Yeah, it’s important to remember that AGOA has been around for now 20 years, and the whole issue of the “global competition” between the United States and China is relatively recent. You know, as I have said many times in my comments and even on some of these press interviews, our whole policy towards Africa, especially the dramatically increasing trade and investment, is not an anti-China policy; it is a pro-Africa and U.S. trade policy, especially to give Africans additional choices. I mean, I have been quite critical in my comments about our own efforts in the past. I said that in the past when there was a knock on Africa’s door for trade and investment, and they opened the door and only China is standing there. I absolutely do not blame Africa for doing all the deals with China. Well, what we would like to do in the U.S. government is make sure that in the future, when there’s a knock on the door, there’s also the U.S. standing there, through our vast private sector, which is eager- very, very eager to engage with Africa. Over.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question I would like to take from the listening party at the U.S. embassy in Lagos. Operator, can you open the line, please?
OPERATOR: Your line is open.
QUESTION: Okay, my name’s [UNCLEAR] Smooth FM. [UNCLEAR] Nigeria may be able to take regular advantage of the AGOA program. Now, what are you doing to ensure that the country does benefit from it? Like, to ensure that the farmers at the grassroots actually benefit from the program?
MS. HAMILTON: Again, you’re asking the United States to sort of go in and make this change within the Nigerian structure. I really think that the question for the Nigerian government is how do we take better advantage of the opportunities that AGOA presents? I mean, we have opened the door; we’ve got the trade hubs there to provide assistance to individual entrepreneurs, but it’s up to the government to create the conditions and to provide its businesspeople with what they need to access this market. We’ve been saying that over and over again. It’s up to the countries to figure out how to take advantage of this important preference program, and in the final years—in the last six years—let’s think about how to maximize the benefits.
Congress has over and over asked each individual country to do a strategic plan for AGOA, to put in place procedures that its businesspeople, its stakeholders, and the civil society and the private sector and in government can understand what the program is and how to best access it. One of the questions I’m going to have for the ministers at the AGOA forum is, do you have those plans in place? How are they working? What are the bright spots, what are the spots where we can possibly help you? But it’s up to the governments to take advantage of this opportunity and to make sure that its businesspeople are prepared.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Just a reminder; to ask a question, please press *1 on your phone. State your name and affiliation before asking your question. We have a question from the listening party at the U.S. embassy in N’Djamena, Chad. It comes from Djerambete Hilaire, journalist at Le Visionnaire newspaper. And he asks, “Why did you choose Abidjan to host the forum?”
MS. HAMILTON: We don’t. Countries nominate themselves, and we actually have done forums all over the continent. I think the first one was in Mauritius; we’ve done them in Zambia, we’ve done them in Kenya, we’ve done them in Senegal, we’ve done them in Ghana. Why would we not want to do one in Cote d’Ivoire? It’s a beautiful country, it has a lot of opportunity. I think that we’re going to have an excellent forum there. I know that the folks on the ground are already working on the logistics and the structure of this forum. They’ve been working very hard to make sure it’s extremely successful.
But keep in mind, we don’t choose the country; they volunteer and we simply agree. I think it’s a good choice.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you. Our next question will go to Pearl Matibe from NewsDay Zimbabwe. Operator, can you open the line please?
OPERATOR: Your line is open.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. My name is Pearl Matibe with NewsDay Zimbabwe, based in Washington, D.C. My question to you is, the independent media correspondents, including women, are often harassed, publicly shamed, or worse by Zimbabwe government officials on the premise that they publish incorrect facts about Zimbabwe or tarnish its reputation in the international community when the government claims they are open for business. In your engagement efforts with the government of Zimbabwe and through the U.S. embassy in Harare, do you foresee the country meeting the remaining need -gap to becoming AGOA-eligible for 2020, and how about Sudan, South Sudan, and Gambia? Thank you very much.
AMB. NAGY: Thanks very much for asking that question. The AGOA criteria are publicly available, and I’m glad you asked the question, because we can talk a little bit about the process, because it’s ongoing now for the selection of next year’s AGOA-eligible countries. What happens is that we in Washington get a considerable amount of information about each of the countries. Some comes from our embassy, some comes from independent sources, NGOs, you know, various other sources. Then we get an inter-agency government team together that is chaired by the U.S. Trade Representative, and we discuss each of the countries. We discuss whether or not they meet the criteria. We discuss special concerns, problems that the countries may have, and it is a remarkably consensus-oriented process. Up to now there has never been really a dispute between U.S. government activities as to who does, who does not meet it.
Then the recommendations go to the White House. The president will announce the eligible countries on January 1st. One other consideration is if there is a change in status, right, in any of the countries, then the president needs to notify Congress 60 days in advance of that. So it’s a very thorough process, but it’s remarkable that oftentimes—well, in government there are different points of view on a number of issues—but on this one there has been just remarkable consensus in how we view the eligibility criteria of the various African countries. Over.
MS. HAMILTON: And if I can just add to that, The Gambia is actually eligible for AGOA. It’s been brought back into the program. Other countries like Zimbabwe and other countries, South Sudan, that you mentioned, we are very transparent in the concerns that we have when a country is not in AGOA. We don’t always publicly notify, you know, put something in the press about this, but we make sure that the governments understand exactly where the shortcomings are and what we’re looking for. So when we do the review, looking at a country like South Sudan or looking at a country like Zimbabwe, we make sure that we communicate with the government where the problems are and what we’re looking for in terms of what they need to do to get eligibility.
So we’re very clear that we don’t want governments to try to guess what they have to do. We want to make sure that they’re very clear about the concerns that we have, and the concerns are always based around the eligibility criteria. Market access, human rights, labor issues, all of those are things that are important in this process, because without those in place, being in a program like AGOA is not going to make any difference. You’re not going to be able to use the program, really, anyway.
AMB. NAGY: And to underline what Connie said, I last met with the highest echelons of the Zimbabwean government in Maputo just a number of weeks ago to have a very, very frank and honest conversation about the conditions in Zimbabwe. Over.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question was sent in advance from Kevin Kelley of Nation Media Group, Kenya. He asks, “How do the United States efforts to help maximize AGOA’s benefits gibe with the Prosper Africa initiative? Can you please provide specific details on how Prosper Africa will work?”
AMB. NAGY: Okay, sure. Again, they’re different components of our overall strategy to basically help Africa prosper. That’s the name Prosper Africa. AGOA’s been doing that for 20 years, and Connie described the history of it and the involvement. Prosper Africa is a new initiative, but what it does in some respects is formalize processes that have been going on. There are three major components to Prosper Africa, and I’ll go through these very quickly. One is in the United States, the second is on the African side, and the third is the introduction of a virtual website which will be helpful to both sides.
As many of you know, we have been urging for decades for African governments to set up what’s called a one-stop shop, to support trade and investment in their countries. The fact is that until now, the United States itself has never had a one-stop shop for U.S. companies that want to invest in Africa, so on the U.S. side what Prosper Africa’s doing, it’s taking the various components in 15 different U.S. government agencies and organizations that deal with trade with Africa, and putting them all under one umbrella. Not taking them physically and separating them from their agencies, but putting them virtually under one umbrella so there’ll be extensive coordination amongst them and they will also be using Department of Commerce outfits in the United States to support, say, a business set in Texas that wants to get involved in Africa.
On the African side, we are empowering our embassies to act as deal teams, both to support, again, partnerships between African businesses and U.S. businesses that want to invest in those countries, but also to work with the host governments to put in place the type of business environment that will be attractive to U.S. businesses.
And then I said that the third component will be a very, very highly efficient website, so that again that company in Texas, if it wants to invest in Togo, it will be hopefully no more than two clicks away from finding sources of information and contact so that they’ll be able to do so.
So AGOA, Prosper Africa, both part of the overall U.S. government strategy to help Africa develop and prosper. Over. Connie, anything to add?
MS. HAMILTON: No, thanks.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Our next question will go to the listening party at the U.S. embassy Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Operator, can you open the line, please?
OPERATOR: Your line is open.
QUESTION: A very good afternoon to you all. My name is Temesgen Bitewulign of the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation. I believe you all know the new administration here in Ethiopia led by Dr. Abiy Ahmed has had a lot of opportunities and challenges. So currently [UNCLEAR] ethnic tension in the country; the biggest challenge, which I believe in Ethiopia just now would be possibly [UNCLEAR] specifically higher unemployment rate among the youth. How do you think this economic cooperation between Ethiopia and the U.S. would contribute to alleviate this challenge in short term? That is my question. Thank you very much.
AMB. NAGY: Okay, well, you know Ethiopia is near and dear to my heart, as a former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia, and we are very fortunate to have one of our ablest ambassadors anywhere there in Addis Ababa, Ambassador Mike Raynor. We applaud and we support the initiatives that Prime Minister Abiy wants to bring to Ethiopia, both on the domestic policy side, on the economic side, and also external policies, peacemaking in the region, really promoting Ethiopia as a champion for political liberalization in the region. So we are eager to support his reforms any way possible.
One of his biggest challenges, of course, is the conversion of Ethiopia from a socialist, state enterprise-led model to a free-trade, private investment type of model, because we all believe that the fastest way to create employment, which, as you said, Ethiopia desperately needs for its millions of young people, is through the private sector. So we are working closely with the Ethiopian government to support their policy changes, which will attract more of the types of investment in businesses that will create this just unbelievable number of jobs that Ethiopia needs. We are partners together; we will do our best to be as supportive as possible, because we understand that there’s a desperate need for jobs yesterday, not tomorrow.
Connie, anything to add?
MS. HAMILTON: Yeah, if I could just add on the trade front. Ethiopia’s already a very attractive destination for private sector investment, and I do know in the apparel sector there’s some very interesting projects going on. Ethiopia’s also working diligently on its WTO accession, which we are helping to support. I think that once they complete that and do some of the other things to Tibor has referred to, I think that job creation, economic development will certainly come to the country. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will go to Dakar, Senegal. Operator, can you open the line please? Hello? Hello, your line is open in Dakar.
QUESTION: Hello, my name is Miriam Ka. With the African Continental Free Trade Area, now that African countries will face one big issue, which is the rules of origin; for example, how can we determine the origin of the service. My question is has the U.S. ever treated that issue, or how should African countries face that issue?
MS. HAMILTON: Let me just say that one of the key parts of making sure that the AfCFTA is a trade-enhancing mechanism as opposed to one that hurts trade is the rules of origin, because that’s the process by which you figure out not whether or not the product is going to be an African product or it’s coming from the outside or whether or not it’s going to be eligible for benefits. And that’s what I think the AU and negotiators are working on now. I don’t know where they are in their process, but I do know how important getting the rules of origin right is going to be to this agreement, and I hope that as they move forward with this, that they make sure that they have rules of origin that are actually going to enhance trade, as opposed to block trade.
But again, it’s still very early. We’re not sure where they are, but we’re certainly hopeful that they’ll do trade-enhancing rules of origin.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will go to the listening party at the U.S. embassy in Monrovia, Liberia. Operator, can you open the line, please?
OPERATOR: Your line is open.
QUESTION: Hello from Monrovia. I’d like to introduce Emmanuel Weedee from the Heritage newspaper, who will ask the next question.
QUESTION: Yes, my name is Emmanuel Weedee of the Heritage newspaper. I would like to know the U.S. government’s approach to the one ECOWAS currency, taking into consideration conflicts with weak economies.
AMB. NAGY: Could you repeat the question, please?
QUESTION: I’d like to know the support of the U.S. government in the one ECOWAS currency, taking into consideration conflicts with weak economies.
AMB. NAGY: Oh, that’s on the ECOWAS currency. Yeah, again, on the ECOWAS currency, we are very supportive of—obviously—the African Union and the regional organizations like ECOWAS, but when it comes to an issue like the ECOWAS currency, that is purely up to the sovereignty of the states involved. We have been following the whole process of introducing an ECOWAS currency, and of course we want to be supportive of ECOWAS, but as far as the timing, the decision, how they go about doing it, exchange values, things like that, that is absolutely up to the ECOWAS member states. Over.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We have Kevin Kelley, live this time, if you could open the line for Kevin Kelley, Nation Media Group. Thank you.
OPERATOR: Your line is open.
QUESTION: Great, thank you for letting me having another question, too. I appreciate it. So you had said earlier, Ambassador Nagy, that there was an effort on the part of the U.S. government to develop a template FTA with an African country. I wondered what the status of that is, what the timeline might be for deciding what that country is, and sort of a down-home question here: what’s the likelihood of Kenya being that country? Thanks.
AMB. NAGY: Actually, that’s Connie, that’s not me.
QUESTION: Alright, sorry. Connie?
MS. HAMILTON: Well, that’s okay. We are actually not going to be the demander in this process. We are asking countries who are interested in doing this type of arrangement with us to come forward, so unlike what the EU did with the [UNCLEAR] where they sort of demanded that countries do this before they could continue their benefits, we’re actually doing the opposite. We’re saying that we want to work with willing partners who will undertake these obligations.
And we’re talking to a number of countries who are interested in it. I won’t name them because I think it’s up to them to let their stakeholders know that they’re interested in doing this, but we do have a number of countries that are interested in pursuing this initiative with us. We hope that the AGOA forum can continue to have those conversations and see where it goes.
One thing I can say about our process: we are very transparent in terms of what TPA [trade promotion authority] requires us to do with an FTA. And so there are rules in most occasions in consulting with Congress, so when we finally get a partner and we start working on this, it will certainly be very publicly known.
AMB. NAGY: Over.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will go to the listening party at the U.S. consulate in Lagos, Nigeria. Operator, open the line please.
OPERATOR: Your line is open.
QUESTION: My name is [UNCLEAR] from Daily Independent Newspaper. AGOA [UNCLEAR] has been described as opening the door but not taking me through the door. Is there an option special office or unit [UNCLEAR] to take home the requirements, the purposes, the standards to the grassroots, so people at the grassroots in Nigeria can actually take advantage of this program? [UNCLEAR] international [UNCLEAR]
MS. HAMILTON: I think one of the best mechanisms for folks on the ground who are interested in taking advantage of AGOA is to work through the trade hubs. That’s why they’re there; that’s why they were created. Their doors are open to businesspeople, to farmers, to entrepreneurs who are interested in accessing the U.S. market. I can say, though, that this is just one mechanism that’s there. It really is up to the governments to make sure that their businesspeople understand how AGOA works and what they need to do to access the program.
There are websites out there that talk about the conditions under AGOA, there are websites that sometimes can allow you to access the commercial services of the Department of Commerce, that can tell you what different producers are looking for. I mean, there are all sorts of ways to figure out how to get into the U.S. market. I can say, though, that I do believe the U.S. market is one of the toughest ones to enter, especially for new businesspeople, and sometimes when I’m talking to businesspeople on the continent, I’d say looking at your own region to start is a way to improve your product, to make sure that you have all the bugs out of it, before you try to get it to the United States.
So looking regionally at those markets is a good way—a precursor to getting into the U.S. market.
AMB. NAGY: And I’d like to add that under Prosper Africa, as I mentioned, one of the key components is becoming much more active on the African side, so we’ve planned for our embassies to also be information hubs that anybody who wants to do business with the United States can go to their U.S. embassy in their country and be directed toward sources of information or the appropriate contacts. Over.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We have time for one last question. I will read one that was submitted to us in advance from Emeka Eke at Upstream Insider. He writes, “There is no arguing the fact that the United States or the West, including China, have all benefitted immensely from Africa’s vast and untapped wealth. My question is, what growth plans do the United States, the West, and China have in these sectors in the next five years?”
AMB. NAGY: I’m sorry, I missed that. Can you repeat the question, please?
MODERATOR: What growth plans do the United States and the West and China have for Africa in these sectors in the next five years?
AMB. NAGY: Okay, we cannot speak for China’s plans. The fact is that the U.S. has a trade deficit with Africa. Interestingly, China has a huge trade surplus of over $40 billion with Africa. Our plans for the next five years are really to proactively implement the Prosper Africa precepts and our goal is to dramatically increase trade and investment between the United States and Africa, obviously to the benefit of both sides, and again, as I said, I have a personal passion to provide as many jobs as possible for Africa’s emerging youth tsunami, and Connie can talk because AGOA has less than six years to go, so I’ll ask her to talk about it.
MS. HAMILTON: Yeah, I think the other thing that we’re doing, our FTA initiative, and certainly one of the reasons why Ambassador Lighthizer announced it is because we want to change the dynamic of our trade relationship. We want to put in place something that really is going to stimulate the type of growth and investment that African countries are looking for, and so as Tibor said, I can’t comment on China or what Western African countries are doing, I can only tell you what we’re trying to do to make sure that we continue to support growth and development on the continent.
And AGOA will be there for the next six years. We are urging countries to continue to maximize what they’re doing under AGOA, to really take advantage of it while it still exists, and we’re also urging those partners who are interested in our FTA initiative to reach out to us and let us know. Keep in mind that the United States is the largest single-country market in the world, and the best way to secure access into that market is through an FTA. And so we are encouraging countries to think about what comes next post-AGOA.
AMB. NAGY: Yeah, and thanks to everybody out there for your interest. We really appreciate these events, because as you can tell, we’re very interested in engaging with our African colleagues. Over.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We do have one last live question from Lagos; would our speakers be able to take that question?
MS. HAMILTON: Okay.
QUESTION: I’m [UNCLEAR]from Rainbow FM. My question has to do with security challenge. Will these be a hindrance to member countries in Africa? And the second one has to do with how much would you say you have [UNCLEAR]?
AMB. NAGY: What was that?
QUESTION: Okay. I will just ask how much would you say you have put in, in terms of monetary to ensure that there is stability in the programs to Africa?
MS. HAMILTON: Can you repeat the question?
AMB. NAGY: Yeah, tell me about the security question again? Because I missed the gist of the security question.
QUESTION: Alright. I’m asking whether the security can be a challenge to member countries in terms of your program.
AMB. NAGY: No, here’s the deal. We want to promote trade and investment with Africa and have it rise dramatically. Of course, we all know that it’s very difficult to attract trade and investment to areas of Africa that are unstable, suffering from security problems. That’s why our policies towards Africa, in addition to promoting trade and investment, of course we’re partnering with African countries to do our best to promote stability and security in those areas, like the Sahel, or unfortunately like in Nigeria with Boko Haram and ISIS West Africa, and Somalia and a number of others, that are suffering from insecurity, because the investment will have to follow once security is reestablished.
Do you want to add anything, Connie?
MS. HAMILTON: No, thank you.
AMB. NAGY: So yeah, basically that’s it. Over.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much. Ambassador Nagy, Ms. Hamilton, do you have any final words?
MS. HAMILTON: Let me just say, at the AGOA forum I think we’re going to have some very interesting conversations. From the African side and the U.S. side we all have some new trade initiatives that we’re going to discuss. I think there’s going to be interesting conversations with the trade ministers to make sure that they can utilize these new initiatives in the best possible way.
AGOA’s been around for almost 20 years, and as we continue to have this conversation and discussion during the forums, we all need to think about what should come next, and hopefully part of the conversation will focus on that as well. But we are looking forward to a very productive and informative AGOA forum, and Ambassador Lighthizer is looking forward to being there, as well as all of the U.S. delegation.
AMB. NAGY: That’s it. Thank you very much.
MODERATOR: Great, and that concludes today’s call. I want to thank Ambassador Tibor Nagy, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs, and Constance Hamilton, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Africa, for joining us and thank all of our callers for participating. If you have any questions about today’s call you may contact the Africa Regional Media Hub at email@example.com. Thank you.