TRALAC - Trade Law Centre

US tells Africa to look beyond textiles

Monday, 16 August 2010

Source: The East African

The top US trade official has acknowledged that textile and apparel exports — once seen as a potential catalyst for Africa’s industrial development — may never become a major component of US-Africa trade.

“I don’t know that America and Africa’s long-term growth [involves] more textiles,” US Trade Representative Ron Kirk told reporters at a briefing. “Rather than rushing into the crowded world of textiles, Africa has to be open to opportunities in other industries and agriculture.”

Mr Kirk, a member of President Obama’s Cabinet, was speaking in Washington in conjunction with an annual conference that reviews the status of the US Africa Growth and Opportunity Act.

This 10th anniversary session was generally downbeat, despite frequent references to positive indicators of Africa’s overall economic performance.

Kenyan Trade Minister Amos Kimunya said in a speech to the conference’s opening session that Agoa’s “disappointments” have included failure to spur exports of most goods other than oil and minerals.

Energy-related products account for more than 90 per cent of Africa’s sales to the US through Agoa.

Only a few major oil producers in Africa have benefited significantly from a programme that was intended by its architects to be far broader in its scope.

“We all know, despite the best of intentions, Agoa has achieved only modest results and has not lived up to the highest hopes of a decade ago,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a conference session. “We are working to increase trade with Africa in non-petroleum goods, but there is a long way to go.”

A civil-society forum on Agoa held in Washington a few days prior to the official conference similarly observed that the initiative had failed to boost manufacturing in countries such as Kenya.

“In the original concept of Agoa,” the civil society groups said in a statement, “the textile and apparel industry was seen as the means of establishing the industrial sector in Africa as it had for countries during the Industrial Revolution in the 1700s.”

But African clothing exports to the United States under Agoa have dropped sharply in recent years — from $1.3 billion in 2007 to $918 million in 2009.

Textile and apparel trade with the US has never amounted to much in the cases of Tanzania and Uganda.

Combined, the two countries sold barely $1 million worth of these items to US importers last year. Uganda’s share was a puny $138,000.

Kenya, however, had a rudimentary apparel manufacturing infrastructure in place at the time of Agoa’s inception, and the industry grew rapidly in the early years of the programme.

By 2005 — thanks to Agoa’s elimination of US tariffs on clothing imports from Africa — Kenya’s sales in this sector had reached about $260 million.

“ Latest AGOA Trade Data currently available on

Click here to view a sector profile of Kenya's bilateral trade with the United States, disaggregated by total exports and imports, AGOA exports and GSP exports.

Other regularly updated trade statistics on include: (click each link to view)

  • AGOA-Beneficiary Countries’ AGOA and GSP Trade Aggregates

  • AGOA Trade by Industry Sector

  • Apparel Trade under AGOA’s Wearing Apparel Provisions

  • Latest Apparel Quotas under AGOA

  • Bilateral Trade Data for all AGOA-eligible countries individually.