AGOA means products from eligible sub-Saharan African countries have duty-free access to US markets

AGOA means products from eligible sub-Saharan African countries have duty-free access to US markets

Tens of thousands of jobs in the African garment sector dependent on exports to the US are at risk unless Congress addresses reauthorisation of the Africa Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA), IndustriAll global union has said.

Trade and investment, specifically the extension of AGOA, topped the agenda at the US Africa Leaders Summit in Washington DC earlier this month.

During the event, US President Barack Obama signalled his determination to renew and improve AGOA as part of broader plans to strengthen trade with African nations. Its renewal is due on 30 September next year.

The non-reciprocal preferential trade programme means products from eligible sub-Saharan African countries have duty-free access to US markets.

The uncertainty over its extension, however, is having an increasingly negative impact on orders placed with African based suppliers, IndustriAll has said.

The union is calling for AGOA to be a permanent programme to encourage longer-term and higher capital investment, which it believes may also lead to increased diversity in exports from the region.

IndustriALL is also recommending the special provision given to Lesser Developed Countries, be extended to all AGOA eligible countries, such as South Africa.

"Tens of thousands of jobs in the garment sector are dependent on exports under AGOA, which make up one fifth of non-petroleum exports under the trade agreement. However, there are poor working conditions in many of these garment factories," IndustriALL said.

Etienne Vlok, researcher at the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers Union, added: "South Africa's apparel exports to the US have collapsed since the early 2000s partly due to the fact that it has been displaced by exports from mainly Asian countries and because the South African textile sector has shrunk with fewer spinning, weaving and knitting mills. This has meant it has been very difficult to comply with the current AGOA rule of using local yarn and fabric in order to benefit from AGOA."

IndustriALL said it hopes the need for redress on "exploitative conditions" and other issues will result in a revision of AGOA that strengthens the protection of workers and jobs.

"When AGOA will be addressed by Congress is anyone's guess, with some holding little hope that the extension will happen before 2015," it added.

Click here and here to read just-style's coverage of the Summit.