TRALAC - Trade Law Centre

Ivory Coast seeks to requalify for AGOA

Friday, 23 November 2007

Source: The Guardian (UK)

Ivory Coast aims to rejoin a preferential trade scheme with the United States in early 2008 as it moves towards holding elections, boosting trade and ending child labour, the head of its export promotion agency said.

The world's No. 1 cocoa producer, which was split in two by a 2002/2003 civil war, was excluded amid political turmoil in 2005 from the U.S. African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA).

AGOA, which was launched in 2000 and runs until 2015, allows nearly 40 African states to export some goods free of duties and quotas into the U.S. market. But it makes good governance and respect for human rights conditions for AGOA status.

Former French colony Ivory Coast, which entered AGOA in 2002, was struck off the list of partners shortly after anti-French riots erupted in late 2004. This political turmoil followed the 2002/2003 conflict that divided the country into a rebel-held north and a government-controlled south.

Guy M'Bengue, director of the APEXCI export promotion association that brings together the government and the private sector, said they were working hard to recover AGOA status. A "Back to AGOA task force" had been set up to work on four specific criteria the United States had set.

"We hope to regain AGOA status in the first quarter of 2008," he told Reuters in an interview late on Thursday.

The criteria set for Ivory Coast were: holding long-delayed national elections, settling disputes with U.S. firms, facilitating commerce, and combating abusive child labour practices on Ivorian coffee and cocoa farms.

President Laurent Gbagbo and his rebel foes agreed a peace deal in March that foresees reunification of the country and elections next year. But initial euphoria has faded amid delays in implementing key aspects of the peace plan.

M'Bengue said he was encouraged that during a visit to Ivory Coast two weeks ago, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte had noted the country was working towards elections.

Outstanding disputes with U.S. firms had been settled, he added, and the government was able to show progress on a programme demanded by the American government to certify Ivorian cocoa is produced without the use of child slave labour.

"Inquiries have been made and we're going to launch corrective measures," M'Bengue said, adding that a survey of child labour use on Ivorian coffee and cocoa plantations would be published in December.

He said the two American lawmakers, Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, and Rep. Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat, who initiated the idea of a child labour certification scheme in both Ivory Coast and Ghana, required by July 2008, would visit in January to see what progress has been made.

Studies by human rights groups have said there are thousands of children working on farms in West Africa.

But local officials say the real situation is often nuanced because these are frequently children who join their parents in the fields to help support the family and they are not necessarily all doing dangerous or over-harsh work.

M'Bengue said regaining eligibility for AGOA status had become more urgent for Ivory Coast as the value of the dollar continued to slip, pushing up the cost of imports into the United States.

He said Ivory Coast provided 90 percent of the exports to the United States shipped by member countries of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA), including cocoa, textiles and tropical fruit.