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US senators introduce bill to renew Africa trade pact through 2041

A bipartisan group of senators has introduced a bill to renew the U.S. trade pact with sub-Saharan Africa ahead of its expiration next year, an aide to one of the senators said.

The bill was introduced by Senators Chris Coons, a Democrat, and James Risch, top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. A cross-party group of senators – Dick Durbin, Michael Bennet, Chris van Hollen, Todd Young and Mike Rounds – is co-sponsoring the bill.

An aide to Coons said it was a high priority to reauthorize the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) this year.

The bill, which was seen exclusively by Reuters, would renew the African Growth and Opportunity Act for 16 years, through 2041, and help countries implement strategies to take advantage of the program.

It would also maintain benefits for countries as they grow richer, enabling them to remain in the program if they are determined to be high-income for five years rather than removing them if they reach that threshold for a single year.

Under the bill, countries would be reviewed for eligibility every other year instead of annually as under the current statute. But the U.S. president and certain congressional leaders could review countries’ eligibility out of cycle at a time.

If countries were found ineligible for the program, the president would have a menu of options for enforcement ranging from full termination of benefits to taking no action. Current statute requires the president to terminate AGOA benefits if a country does not meet eligibility.

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A draft of the bill introduced by Coons last November mandated an immediate out-of-cycle review for South Africa, one of the biggest beneficiaries of the program, but it is not included in this version of the bill.

An aide to Coons said it was viewed as unnecessary to single out a particular country since the bill already allows for out-of-cycle reviews, but senators remain concerned about South Africa’s activities.

A Democratic aide to the Senate Finance Committee said Ron Wyden, chairman of the panel, “supports renewing AGOA and looks forward to working with the committees of jurisdiction and other interested members to develop a bipartisan, bicameral bill.”

President Joe Biden has said he supports the reauthorization of the pact initially enacted in 2000. More than $10 billion worth of African exports entered the U.S. duty-free under the program in 2022, according to the U.S. Trade Representative’s office.

American business groups have said they need certainty about AGOA in order for African countries to take advantage of global efforts to lower dependence on Chinese manufacturing.

An aide to Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

By MAKINI BRICE

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