South Africa to lose preferential access to US markets

The US has narrowed its list of countries it considers to be developing nations, including SA, to prevent them getting special trade preferences.

SA is set to lose preferential access to US markets after the Trump administration moved to change key exemptions to America’s trade-remedy laws on Monday.  

In 2019, US President Donald Trump issued an executive memo that asked US trade representative Robert Lighthizer to determine whether there has been “substantial progress” towards limiting the number of countries considered developing nations. 

“The WTO [World Trade Organisation] is BROKEN when the world’s RICHEST countries claim to be developing countries to avoid WTO rules and get special treatment. NO more!!! Today I directed the U.S. Trade Representative to take action so that countries stop CHEATING the system at the expense of the USA!” Trump said in a tweet in July.

In doing so, the US eliminated its special preferences for a list of self-declared developing countries that includes Albania; Argentina; Armenia; Brazil; Bulgaria; China; Colombia; Costa Rica; Georgia; Hong Kong; India; Indonesia; Kazakhstan; the Kyrgyz Republic; Malaysia; Moldova; Montenegro; North Macedonia; Romania; Singapore; South Africa; South Korea; Thailand; Ukraine; and Vietnam.

The US trade representative said the decision to revise its developing country methodology for countervailing duty investigations is necessary because America’s previous guidance — which dates back to 1998 — “is now obsolete.”

In a separate, but related matter the US is already considering whether SA can continue to be part of its preferential trade programme.

The Trump administration wants to reconsider SA’s preferential access to its markets over concerns that the Copyright Amendment Bill will threaten intellectual property (IP) rights. Should the US decide to suspend SA from the trade programme, the country could lose as much as R34bn in export revenue. The bill, which is being opposed by several local and international lobby groups, has been on President Cyril Ramaphosa’s desk for 10 months.

The International Association for the Protection of Intellectual Property (AIPPI), which represents US companies that produce copyright-protected material including computer software, films, television programmes, music, books, and journals (electronic and print media), is objecting to the bill because of the risk it poses to US IP rights. As a retaliatory measure, the association has been lobbying the US government to withdraw SA’s preferential trade status.

Under the US Trade Act, one of the criteria for eligibility for the generalised system of preferences (GSP) programme is that the state “provide ‘adequate and effective protection’ of American copyrighted works and sound recordings”.

Source: Article by Bekezela Phakathi, Business Day, 11 February 2020

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AGOA – a Poisoned Chalice?

AGOA States-GAO

“Is the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) always a poisoned chalice from the United States of America?”, asks an editorial in The East African. The Kenya newspaper suggests it appeared to be so after the US allowed a petition that could see Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda lose their unlimited opening to its market.

This follows the US Trade Representative assenting last week to an appeal by Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association, a used clothes lobby, for a review of the three countries’ duty-free, quota-free access to the country for their resolve to ban importation of used clothes, the The East African continues.

The US just happens to be the biggest source of used clothes sold in the world. Some of the clothes are recycled in countries like Canada and Thailand before being shipped to markets mostly in the developing world.

In East Africa, up to $125 million is spent on used clothes annually, a fifth of them imported directly from the US and the bulk from trans-shippers including Canada, India, the UAE, Pakistan, Honduras and Mexico.

The East Africa imports account for 22 percent of used clothes sold in Africa. Suspending the three countries from the 2000 trade affirmation would leave them short of $230 million in foreign exchange that they earn from exports to the US.

That would worsen the trade balance, which is already $80 million in favour of the US. In trade disputes, numbers do not tell the whole story. Agoa now appears to have been caught up in the nationalism sweeping across the developed world and Trumponomics.

US lobbies have been pushing for tough conditions to be imposed since it was enacted, including the third country rule of origin which would require that apparel exports be made from local fabric.

The rule, targeted at curbing China’s indirect benefits from Agoa through fabric sales, comes up for a legislative review in 2025, making it prudent for African countries to prepare for the worst. Whether that comes through a ban or phasing out of secondhand clothing (the wording that saved Kenya from being listed for a review) is immaterial.

What is imperative is that African countries have to be resolute in promoting domestic industries. In textiles and leather, for instance, that effort should include on-farm incentives for increasing cotton, hides and skins output, concessions for investments in value-adding plants like ginneries and tanneries and market outlets for local textile and shoe companies.

The world over, domestic markets provide the initial motivation for production before investors venture farther afield. Import bans come in handy when faced with such low costs of production in other countries that heavy taxation still leaves those products cheaper than those of competitors in the receiving countries.

The US has also been opposed to heavy taxation of used clothes, which buyers say are of better quality and more durable. For Kenya to be kept out of the review, it had to agree to reduce taxes on used apparel.

These factors have left Agoa beneficiaries in a no-win situation: Damned if you ban, damned if you do not. With their backs to the wall, beneficiaries like Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda have to think long term in choosing their industrial policies and calling the US bluff.

Beneficiaries must speak with one voice to effectively guard against trade conditions that over time hamper domestic industrial growth. Source: The East African, Picture: US GAO

Swaziland Loses U.S. Trade Benefits

AGOA_W1Swaziland has lost its preferential trading status with the United States. US President Barack Obama announced (26 June 2014) that the kingdom would lose its benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

He said this was because Swaziland was not ‘making continual progress’ in enacting civil, political and workers’ rights.

Swaziland is not a democracy and is ruled by King Mswati III, who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

The decision to withdraw Swaziland’s AGOA eligibility comes after years of engaging with the Government of the Kingdom of Swaziland on concerns about its implementation of the AGOA eligibility criteria related to worker rights. The statement said after an ‘extensive review’ the US, ‘concluded that Swaziland had not demonstrated progress on the protection of internationally recognized worker rights.

In particular, Swaziland has failed to make continual progress in protecting freedom of association and the right to organize. Of particular concern is Swaziland’s use of security forces and arbitrary arrests to stifle peaceful demonstrations, and the lack of legal recognition for labor and employer federations.

AGOA is a US preferential trade programme that provides duty-free access to the $3 trillion US market for thousands of products from eligible sub-Saharan African countries.

Media in Swaziland have predicted that as many as 20,000 jobs in the kingdom’s textile industry could be lost as a result of the withdrawal of AGOA benefits that comes into force on 1 January 2015. The textile industry in Swaziland is dominated by Taiwanese companies which were drawn to the kingdom by the availability of cheap labour and the AGOA agreement. Source: Swazi Media Commentary

Africa – China’s Export Route to the U.S.?

AGOA_W1The Africa Growth and Opportunity Act intends to support African exports to US markets. It is helping savvy Chinese companies too. US-Africa trade received a boost with the signing of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) back in May 2000, which enabled African countries to export over 4,000 products, including apparel, quota-free and duty-free to the US.

Geared to support the integration of African countries into global markets, AGOA has enjoyed broad cross-party support in a usually fraught US legislature – especially on issues of foreign trade – and has been renewed several times. Helping Africa, it seems, is something everyone can agree on.

But they might, unwittingly, have been helping China too. Research by Lorenzo Rotunno and colleagues at the Centre for the Study of African Economies, Oxford University, suggests that savvy Chinese companies have set up shop in Africa as a route to get their products into the US with all the AGOA benefits.

The entrepreneurs’ logic is impeccable. Not only could an Africa platform get them duty free access to US markets, they could also avoid heavy quotas on China’s exports to the US, imposed through previous protectionist measures by the rich world, such as the Multi-Fiber Agreement.

Because AGOA did not contain ‘rules of origin’ provisions, the door is wide open for such creative thinking. “Restrictive quotas on Chinese apparel exports in the US and preferential treatment for African exports resulted in quota-hopping transhipment from China to the US via AGOA countries” the researchers say.

Chinese and Taiwanese producers are now said to comprise the bulk of a textile “diaspora” in Lesotho, Madagascar and Kenya. In one Kenyan processing zone, 80% of the 34 garment plants had Asian owners. While some outfits doubtless have in-country assembly – and therefore generate jobs and incomes for Africans – a number are little more than transporting docks for foreign-sourced, fully assembled goods ready to go to their final destination, tax free.

Chinese entrepreneurs made no bones about it. In one survey, they gave ‘taking advantage of international trade agreements’ in their top five list of motives for investing and operating in Africa. Source: AllAfrica.com