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 Monday, 20 January, 2003, 20:09 GMT
Africa firmly on US agenda
Mauritius beach
It is the first time AGOA has met in Africa
A conference on Africa's economic opportunities has left few in any doubt that many nations have benefited immensely under the Africa Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA) signed in May 2000.

AGOA liberalized trading rules with the US and president George W Bush pledged last week to extend the lifetime of legislation granting tariff-free trade to African countries.

However, as the second US sub-Saharan Africa Trade and Economic Cooperation forum of 38 African countries closed, a major question remained: can the economic growth spurred by AGOA be sustained?

US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick
Zoellick: Our long-term aim is to develop a free trade agreement which supports long-term development and growth interests

The United States is proposing a free trade agreement with five countries in southern Africa.

America's top trade official, Robert Zoellick, held talks about the proposal with officials from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland which make up SACU - the Southern African Customs Union.

Broader picture

Mr Zoellick said the US-SACU free trade agreement would form "the cornerstone of America's broader efforts to promote global trade liberalisation".

"Our aim is to develop a free trade agreement which supports long-term development and growth interests of our partners," he added.

Outside of Europe the US is SACU's second largest trading partner

Alec Erwin, South Africa trade and industry minister

Although African goods to the US account for just a small fraction of American imports, the idea of a free trade agreement with SACU has already received support from some influential members in Congress.

South Africa's trade and industry minister Alec Erwin told the BBC's Alistair Leithead that SACU was set to gain from the proposal, describing it as "important and exciting".

"Because of the changes in the SACU economies... the greater opening to the US market is very important for us," said Mr Erwin.

Protectionism

"The biggest problem that South Africa and Brazil have with the US are tariff peaks and tariff escalation," added Mr Erwin.

He looks upon such tariffs as a form of protectionism, but admitted free trade agreements are not easy to arrange, especially when the agreement with the US could be more comprehensive than the one the country already has with Europe.

"We hope we can get it done in round about two years - and that will be good going," he said.

However, the trade agreement would also mean that US goods will be more easily imported into the SACU nations - something which Mr Erwin said the nations need not be afraid of.

"South Africa is not in the least a bit scared, we are highly competitive," he said.

"The South African and therefore the surrounding SACU economies should not fear trade," he said.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  Robert Zoellick, US Trade Representative
"This US-SACU free trade agreement will be the cornerstone of America's broader efforts."
  Alec Erwin, South Africa minister
"The biggest problem that South Africa and Brazil have with the US are tariff peaks and tariff escalation."
See also:

17 Jan 03 | Business
15 Jan 03 | Business
06 Dec 02 | Business
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12 Feb 02 | Business
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