Remarks by Ambassador Katherine Tai at the Opening Ceremony of the 20th Africa Growth and Opportunity Act Forum

JOHANNESBURG –United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai today delivered remarks during the opening ceremony of the 20th African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Forum.

In her remarks, Ambassador Tai underscored the Biden-Harris Administration’s continued commitment to partner with Africa to amplify the continent’s vibrancy and potential, and to promote resilience, sustainability, and inclusivity for more people. Ambassador Tai also emphasized the need to adapt the AGOA program to today’s needs and challenges and to shape a forward-looking vision for the U.S.-Africa trade relationship.

Ambassador Tai’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below:

Thank you, Minister Patel. I want to acknowledge the extraordinary job that President Ramaphosa, you, and your team across the South African Government have done in organizing this year’s Forum.

I would like to welcome all of you to the 20th AGOA Ministerial meeting. 

Fellow ministers, heads of delegation from our AGOA Partner Countries, Secretaries-General and Commissioners of the Regional Economic Communities and the African Union, Honorable Members of Congress, U.S. Government colleagues, honored delegates and invited guests—it is an honor to have all of you here today. 

It was so inspiring to tour the “Made in Africa” exhibition before this ceremony. It captures the essence of what I have believed about the continent for a long time—its vibrancy, ingenuity, and potential.

This is my third trip to Africa as the U.S. Trade Representative, and the last time I was here, I had the privilege of speaking with an extraordinary group of about thirty young, women entrepreneurs.

One of them was from Kenya, and her company sources macadamia nuts from small farms, then processes and packages the nuts for export.

She was so proud to share that her business will help expand economic opportunities for more than 6,000 small farmers across Kenya, creating decent work for many and also combatting the climate crisis through sustainable practices. 

Through stories like these, I am once again reminded of the potential of trade to empower and support brilliant leaders like her. To spur on more inclusive growth. To help equip the next generation. To make it easier for them to compete and thrive.

All of you in this room play such an important part of fully realizing this vision. No one government can get there alone, and that is the power of this forum. A committed and thoughtful community with a common goal—strengthening our U.S.-African trade and investment relationship.

Policymakers, civil society, labor, and business leaders—we are all here to craft a more resilient, sustainable, and inclusive tomorrow for all our people.

For the last two decades, AGOA has helped Africa grow its extraordinary economic potential.

AGOA has been a vehicle for workers and businesses across Africa. This is important, as all of us continue our economic recovery from the COVID pandemic.

Consider this—total goods imports into the United States under AGOA was about $10 billion in 2022, a significant increase compared to $6.8 billion in 2021.

Non-petroleum imports, which are major sources of new investment and jobs in Africa, increased to $5.7 billion in 2022, from $5 billion in 2021.

The program has fostered economic growth and development on the continent—to increase investment and to create new jobs and opportunities.

AGOA was established to make an enormous difference for millions of Africans as it opened new doors for trade and investment, and to encourage African leaders to develop and implement African-led solutions to economic and political reforms.

However, it has been twenty-three years since we established AGOA. And many things have changed.

Our economies are facing new challenges. The continued economic fallout from the COVID pandemic. Fragile and vulnerable supply chains. A worsening climate crisis. Growing inequality and economic insecurity.

But there have also been positive developments.

Trading under the African Continental Free Trade Area—or the AfCFTA—began in January 2021. In September of this year, the African Union joined the G20. And according to the African Development Bank, five of the world’s ten fastest growing economies are projected to be in Africa.

South Africa in particular has been one of the largest AGOA users. The country was the top exporter in 2022, with $3.6 billion in exports. And South Africa is leading the continent on other aspects as well, including through its clear commitment to human rights.

Even amidst challenging global economic circumstances, we see that there is opportunity to shape a stronger, new, forward-looking vision for U.S.-Africa trade. One where more segments of our society are brought in. One where, as President Biden would say, the benefits are realized from the bottom up and the middle out.

The United States remains a committed partner as Africa continues this journey.

As President Biden said at the U.S. – Africa Leaders Summit last December, the United States is all in on Africa.

Ten months after the conclusion of the Summit, the United States is continuing our whole-of-government effort to deliver on our commitments, including an unprecedented level of Cabinet and senior official travel to the continent—with nine cabinet or agency-head visits so far this year.

We at USTR are proud to support the implementation of AfCFTA, under the U.S.-AfCFTA Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation for Trade and Investment, which AfCFTA Secretary General Wamkele Mene and I signed during the Summit.

We created four Technical Working Groups, and the U.S. government is providing approximately $160 million to support the negotiation and implementation of the AfCFTA, including support from the United States Agency for International Development, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Prosper Africa.

The United States is here to build and enhance our relationships, so that more Africans can enjoy the benefits of economic growth. To empower workers and their communities. To build fair and equitable societies, not just for today, but for years to come. 

As we discuss the impact, challenges, and prospects of AGOA, let’s work together to further unlock the potential of our partnership, to pursue sustainable and equitable growth for all segments of our societies—and ultimately, to unlock the potential of our people, including and especially women, youth, and the African Diaspora.

I look forward to a fruitful discussion, and we have a lot to talk about—improving utilization rates, exploring additional trade tools to complement our AGOA relationship, collaborating on the implementation of the AfCFTA, and better using the multilateral trading system for the benefit of underserved groups in each of our economies.  

I am delighted and determined to work with you as we chart a path of transforming and modernizing our partnership.

Before I turn the floor over to Minister Patel, I invite you to listen to a message from Secretary of State Anthony Blinken about the AGOA Forum and the Biden-Harris Administration’s vision for the future of AGOA.

Thank you.