South African economic development, trade and industry minister Ebrahim Patel addresses an African trade ministers meeting in Abidjan. PHOTO: Supplied

JOHANNESBURG  - Africa must take steps to increase utilisation of its benefits under the United States' African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) as well as to deepen trade and investment relationships with the world's biggest economy, South Africa's economic development, trade and industry minister Ebrahim Patel said on Monday.

Patel, who chaired one of the sessions as a consultative meeting of African ministers in Abidjan, Cote d’ Ivoire, also highlighted the need to aligning trade partnerships to the goals of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA).

AGOA is a  trade preference programme that aims to enhance market access to the US for qualifying sub-Saharan African countries, on condition that they  work towards improving rule of law, human rights and respect for core labour standards.

The Abidjan meeting was held in preparation of an August 5-6 AGOA forum between trade ministers from sub-Saharan Africa and US officials to discuss a new paradigm to guide relations.

"This is the first AGOA forum since the launch of the operational phase of the ACFTA, the potential economic game changer for our continent and the realisation of the decades old dream of the African economic unity," Patel said.

"It is our ‘made in Africa’ initiative and we have the opportunity in these proceedings to align AGOA and all our external initiatives to the goals of the ACFTA to enable us to speak with one voice and to build African Union institutions."

He bemoaned the fact that out of 1,835 tariff lines under AGOA, sub-Saharan Africa was only using 748, or 40 percent.

“Indeed we only use 13 percent of the tariff lines under the bigger Generalised System of Preferences," he said.

"We are here to discuss how to turn that around, to identify challenges and to take steps to increase utilisation of AGOA preferences as well as to deepen trade and investment relationships Africa and US."

- African News Agency (ANA)