US President Joe Biden has excluded four countries from Africa from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) because of human rights violations.
Biden wrote to House Speaker Mike Johnson that he was removing Gabon, the Central African Republic, Uganda and Niger from Agoa because they no longer comply with the requirements of the preferential trade agreement.
The letter by Biden to the House Speaker comes days before South Africa hosts the Agoa summit in Johannesburg. The summit gets under way on Thursday.
US Trade Representative Katherine Tai said last week she will co-chair the summit and take part in the plenary.
South Africa has called for the extension of Agoa for 10 years.
Biden said they had asked the four countries to meet the Agoa requirements but they have failed to do so.
In Gabon and Niger there have been military coups in the last few months after the overthrow of Ali Bongo and Mohamed Bazoum, respectively.
Bongo had been re-elected in what the military said were rigged polls, when he was overthrown.
Bazoum had been in power for two years when the military seized power in July.
Uganda has been accused of passing an anti-LGBTQI+ law, the Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2013, which can potentially lead to a death sentence.
In his letter, Biden accused these countries of human rights violations.
“I am taking this step because I have determined that the Central African Republic, Gabon, Niger, and Uganda do not meet the eligibility requirements of section 104 of the Agoa. Specifically, the Government of the Central African Republic has engaged in gross violations of internationally recognised human rights and has not established, or is not making continual progress toward establishing, the protection of internationally recognised worker rights, the rule of law, and political pluralism.
“Niger and the Government of Gabon have not established, or are not making continual progress toward establishing, the protection of political pluralism and the rule of law.
“Finally, the Government of Uganda has engaged in gross violations of internationally recognised human rights.
“Despite intensive engagement between the United States and the Central African Republic, Gabon, Niger, and Uganda, these countries have failed to address United States concerns about their non-compliance with the Agoa eligibility criteria,” said Biden.
He said their membership of Agoa will come to an end in January next year. But he will continue to assess their eligibility requirements.
South Africa was a few months ago on the radar of some of the US Senators who wrote to top Biden officials and asked them to move the Agoa summit away from South Africa after allegations that Pretoria sold arms to Russia.
US ambassador Reuben Brigety had made the allegations that a Russian vessel that docked in Simon’s Town outside Cape Town last December had loaded weapons for the war in Ukraine.
But this was denied by Defence Minister Thandi Modise, who said at the time the Russian ship had delivered equipment that had been ordered in 2018, but could not be delivered because of Covid-19.
A panel, chaired by retired Judge Phineas Mojapelo, also found that there were no weapons that were loaded aboard the ship.
US Senators, including chairperson of the foreign relations committee Chris Coons, wrote to the Biden officials to move Agoa from South Africa.
This led to senior Cabinet ministers meeting with their US counterparts on this matter.
Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel met with US Trade Representative Katherine Tai a number of times in the build-up to the formal announcement that the summit will continue to be held in Johannesburg from November 2-4.
Coons said this week he was in full support of the extension of Agoa.
“Our trade relationship with sub-Saharan Africa creates opportunities for US businesses and supports Africa’s economic development. That’s why I led a bipartisan letter to support the reauthorisation of Agoa and urge its swift passage,” said Coons on Monday.