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President Cyril Ramaphosa Addresses 20th AGOA Forum, Emphasizes Industrialization and Trade Opportunities for Africa

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Johannesburg, November 3, 2023 – In an address at the 20th AGOA Forum held at the Johannesburg Expo Centre, President Cyril Ramaphosa extended a warm welcome to distinguished delegates from the United States and Trade Ministers from across sub-Saharan Africa, emphasizing the crucial juncture at which this forum takes place.

This landmark 20th AGOA Forum arrives at a pivotal moment, as the world grapples with significant challenges and promising prospects. Africa, a continent of immense potential, boasts abundant reserves of critical minerals, a youthful population, increasing urbanization, and a growing networked society. President Ramaphosa underscored Africa’s steadfast commitment to the industrialization of its economies. By advancing up the value-chain, more jobs are created, greater value is added within Africa, and the lives of over 1.3 billion people are improved.

While Africa remains an essential source of critical raw materials, the vision goes beyond being merely producers of commodities. The true industrial opportunity lies in the transformation of raw materials into sophisticated industrial and consumer goods that cater to global demand. President Ramaphosa expressed the expectation of close collaboration with the United States to foster an investment-led approach that diversifies international supply chains of critical minerals by processing these resources within Africa.

Trade continues to be an instrument for advancing industrialization, job creation, and inclusive growth. Partnerships with countries like the United States, which boasts the world’s largest national market, extend well beyond trade relations.

President Ramaphosa acknowledged the pivotal role played by the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) over the past two decades in shaping US-Africa commercial ties. While AGOA’s unilateral trade preferences have yielded economic benefits across sub-Saharan Africa, its full potential remains underutilized. Early renewal and improvements to AGOA are seen as essential to bolster trade and investment.

President Ramaphosa highlighted the need for reforms that expand the range of products covered by AGOA and simplify its accessibility for small and medium-sized enterprises. Utilization rates of AGOA vary across the 35 eligible Sub-Saharan African countries, with Kenya and Lesotho emerging as leaders. These countries have significantly benefited from AGOA, particularly in textiles and apparel, leading to job creation and reliable production for American consumers.

South Africa’s automotive exports to the United States under AGOA have also contributed to job creation in South Africa and neighboring countries by integrating their supply chains. The cross-border trade among African countries has further enriched the industrial landscape, fostering regional development and reducing dependence on commodities.

AGOA exports can complement the African Continental Free Trade Area, which is geared towards boosting intra-African trade. The partnership with the United States, offering duty-free and quota-free market access under AGOA, holds potential for driving investment in Africa.

President Ramaphosa called for the extension or renewal of AGOA, offering an incentive for investors to establish new factories on the African continent. Leveraging emerging regional value chains will be instrumental in the continent’s industrialization. Efforts to attract greater levels of investment within AGOA are essential.

The President expressed concerns about trade restrictions on products like steel, aluminum, or citrus fruit, which affect AGOA utilization rates. He hoped that the discussions at the Forum would address these issues effectively.

In addition to government-to-government discussions, President Ramaphosa highlighted the interactions taking place between private sector representatives, as well as at the newly introduced Labor Forum and Civil Society Forum. The inclusion of the Labor Forum brought together American and African workers, emphasizing the forum’s focus on promoting employment.

President Ramaphosa concluded by inviting US retailers, importers, and major corporations to consider Africa as a pivotal source for industrial procurement and a vital element of a resilient supply chain. He urged US companies to send supply-chain managers and procurement officers to Africa and to establish businesses and factories on the continent.

In closing, President Ramaphosa expressed his appreciation to delegates, exhibitors, social partners, and sponsors for their contributions to making the 20th AGOA Forum a success. He extended special thanks to the three major sponsors – Standard Bank, Sasol, and South 32, as well as the numerous other sponsors who generously supported the event. He also invited trade ministers and members of the US delegation to enjoy South Africa’s warm hospitality and join in the celebrations with the new Rugby World Champions. The 20th AGOA Forum was officially declared open for business, with President Ramaphosa wishing all participants successful deliberations.

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