US embassy economic officer Alan Tousignant said Monday proposed changes to the US African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) could increase investments in Africa's textile and apparel industry over the next few years.

If adopted by the US congress, Tousignat said the amendments would result in increased duty-free access for African clothing exporters' to US markets, which would double over the eight years AGOA was set to run.

African duty-free apparel exports are restricted to 1.5 per cent of total US clothing imports, growing to 3.5 per cent of imports by 2008. These limits will grow from 3 per cent to 7 per cent over the Act's life if the changes to AGOA are approved.

Elaine Sheppard, the head of textiles, clothing and footwear at state-owned investment agency Trade and Investment SA, said the doubling of the caps on duty-free exports to the US could make investments in the local industry more viable as potential export volumes would be far greater.

African exporters would be helped by US importers looking to broaden their sources of supply, said Gordon Joffe, the head of clothing manufacture at Polo SA. They no longer wanted to be too dependent on any geographic region.

Even before AGOA kicked in, exports to the US were increasing and South African producers were gaining prominence in the US.

He said exports under AGOA would increase significantly in the second half of the year - six months after the act took effect - because neither African producers nor US importers wanted to be "pioneers".

The bulk of benefits would be felt "two to four years down the track" because there would be a lead time of up to a year for new business deals to be signed, he said.

By Barnabas Thondhlana.