It’s common to hear people who should know better call the African Growth and Opportunity Act an agreement. It isn’t. It’s a one-way grant of preferential access to the American market for African countries that meet certain criteria. The recipients made no binding concessions of their own to secure these preferences. The donor calls the shots. That’s life.
The US wanted to negotiate a free trade agreement with South Africa after AGOA went into effect. The negotiations failed in 2006 leaving a sour taste in Washington’s mouth. South Africa says they failed because the US was asking for more than its South African Customs Union partners — Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland and Lesotho — felt able to give. That’s not an excuse that’s universally accepted on the US side. The feeling here is that South Africa preferred to keep getting without giving.
Now come the consequences. What’s given unilaterally can also be taken away unilaterally. The US is threatening denial of AGOA benefits to get what it wants. That includes a share of the SA market for frozen chicken legs and wings. SA says US exporters were dumping their surpluses on SA at less that the cost of production before punitive duties were imposed in 2000.
Were it so inclined, the US government could take SA to the World Trade Organisation over those duties. Why hasn’t it? Two reasons. One, success is by no means certain. Two, Washington has another tool to work its will: the threat of dropping SA from AGOA.
Now, as a result of the chicken dispute, it looks likely that the US Congress will renew AGOA with a clause obliging the US Trade Representative (the person, Michael Froman, and the agency he runs) to launch a review of South Africa’s eligibility within 30 days of the the renewal legislation becoming law.
The legal language mandating the review calls for it to be conducted with reference to a specific subsection — highlighted in italics below — of AGOA’s section 104:
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