Minister of Commerce Heads Delegation at AGOA Forum in Washington, DC.


By Abdoulaye W. Dukule


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
June 7, 2006


Ministry of Commerce
The Minister of Commerce and Industry of Liberia Mrs. Olubanke King-Akerele attended the annual forum of the ministerial meeting of the AGOA (Africa Growth and Opportunity Act) that began in the US capital on Tuesday June 6, 2006. At the end of the first day of consultations, the Minister said she was very happy with the level of discussion and the many contacts she made through the day. “This is a unique opportunity for us and although we are here as observers – and the only non member country- we have been able to speak not only to American officials, but also to establish contact with some of our colleagues from the continent and discuss trade issues.”

The first day of the forum kicked off with remarks by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Senegal, Mr. Cheikh Tidiane Gadio at the Loy Henderson Auditorium of the State Department. The Liberian delegation joined 37 other African nations that have so far qualified to take advantage of the trade opportunities with the US under the AGOA trade legislation.

The AGOA trade legislation was passed during the administration of former US president Bill Clinton in 2000, after many years of studies and discussion that involved US government and businesses, civil organizations and with much input from the Corporate Council on Africa. AGOA provides African nations special conditions to export products to the United States. Conditions for admission are very stringent and include but limited to the rule of law, transparency, democratic governance and other criteria defining today’s new world order. Oil, apparel and agricultural products tap the list of 6,400 items that qualify for export ton the US.

The invitation of Liberia to the ministerial forum that discusses and recommends new trade policies between the United States and Africa’s is without any doubt a result of the election of Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf at the helm of Liberia. Liberia is under the radar of the US African policies since the election of the Iron Lady to the presidency of Liberia. Although it remains to be seen what benefits Liberia would accrue from AGAO, the fact that the forum brings together some of the most “liberal” countries in Africa and those embarked on a path to democratization and free trade will open the way for Liberia for more interaction with not only African governments and investors but a rare access to the gigantic market goods and services of the US.

The 8-person Liberian delegation also included the Minister of Finance, Dr. Antoinette Saryeh, the Minister of Internal Affairs Mr. Ambulai Johnson, and Minister-Counselor Alexander Wallace, Charge d’Affairs at the Liberian Embassy in Washington, DC, among others.

In her opening speech, Dr. Rice underlined the close relationships between America and Africa, and stressed the fact that it was African blood that built America, brick after brick. She said it was also people of African ancestry like those of the Civil Rights era that redeemed America of its original sins of slavery. The Secretary of State added that the Bush administration has enacted more legislation on Africa than any other US governments in the area of economic development, trade, security and other partnership schemes. According to her, the Bush administration refuses the “bigotry of low expectations” and was looking forward to working with Africans in the spirit of partnership. She said the US wants to work with Africans as they build their own future and take ownership of their own prosperity.

The Senegalese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Gadjo, treaded along the same lines and emphasized the hard work accomplished by Dr. Rice, Dr. Zendayi Frazer and Dr. Cindy Courville in ensuring that African issues remain on the front burner of the Bush administration. He said that Africa was ready and open for business and that although the continent had benefited much from the AGAO trade scheme, there were many important matters to discuss. He concluded his remarks by quoting President Abdoulaye Wade, who said, “Africa is ready for free trade but we prefer fair trade above all.”

At the end of the opening session, Minister King-Akerele dispatched members of the delegations to the various workshops that included: “The US and African Infrastructure Projects, Protecting Intellectuals Property rights, Agricultural Exports to the US and South-to-South Cooperation, and Role of Regional Organizations in Trade Facilitation.” Late in the afternoon, the Minister joined other African colleagues at US Congress where she made a case for Liberia.

Besides the ministerial forum at the department of State, the civil society organizations and the private sector are also holding meetings on the campus of the George Washington University, a few blocks away. The civil society forum focuses on issues relating to job creation, the environment and the social benefits of the AGOA. The discussion at the private sector forum focuses on investment opportunities in Africa and financing for business projects in Africa.

The two-day meeting will end with recommendations on how to extend portions of the AGAO legislation that could benefit both the US and Africa. Minister King-Akerele will make remarks during the closing ceremony. The Minister said she is also planning to meet with the Liberian business community in the US to discuss the environment the Sirleaf government is creating for trade and investment and what contributions Liberians in the Diaspora can make to the economic development of the country. “I liked what I heard today, and there are tremendous possibilities in trade with the US and with our African brothers and sisters but our first partners are the Liberians, especially those who have developed entrepreneurial skills in exile and are longing to return home with their experience and investments.”

© 2006 by The Perspective

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