U.S. Trade and Investment Relationship with SubSaharan Africa: The African Growth and Opportunity Act and Beyond

Publication Date: October 2008

Publisher: Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service


Research Area: Economics; Trade



Following the end of the apartheid era in South Africa in the early 1990s, the United States sought to increase economic relations with sub-Saharan Africa. President Clinton instituted several measures that dealt with investment, debt relief, and trade. Congress required the President to develop a trade and development policy for Africa.

The economic challenges facing Africa today are serious. Unlike the period from 1960 to 1973, when economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa was strong, since 1973 the countries of sub-Saharan Africa have grown at rates well below other developing countries. There are some signs of improvement, but problems such as HIV/AIDS and the debt burden are constraining African economic growth.

In May 2000, Congress approved a new U.S. trade and investment policy for sub-Saharan Africa in the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA; Title I, P.L. 106-200). U.S. trade with and investment in sub-Saharan Africa have comprised only 1-2% of U.S. totals for the world. AGOA extends preferential treatment to imports from eligible countries that are pursuing market reform measures. Data show that U.S. imports under AGOA are mostly energy products, but imports to date of other products are growing. AGOA mandated that U.S. officials meet regularly with their counterparts in sub-Saharan Africa, and five of these meetings have been held.

AGOA also directed the President to provide U.S. government technical assistance and trade capacity support to AGOA beneficiary countries. Government agencies that have had roles in this effort include the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Africa (established by statute under AGOA), the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the ExportImport Bank, the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service, and the Trade and Development Agency. In addition to bilateral programs, the United States is a member of several multilateral institutions that also provide technical capacity building.

In AGOA, Congress declared that free-trade agreements should be negotiated, where feasible, with interested sub-Saharan African countries. Related to this provision, negotiations on a free-trade agreement with the Southern African Customs Union, which includes South Africa and four other countries, began in June 2003.

Several topics may be important to Congress in the oversight of AGOA and in potential legislation amending the act. These issues concern the expiration of the act, rules of origin provisions concerning textiles and apparel, the use of AGOA's benefits by more countries, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. This product will be updated periodically.