August 3, 2009
NAIROBI, Aug. 3 (Xinhua) — United States Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is among the high profile personalities expected to attend the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) forum which formally kicks off in Nairobi on Tuesday.
The forum is an annual event mandated by the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which was signed into law by former President Bill Clinton in May 2000 to expand U.S. trade and investment with Sub-Saharan Africa.
The forum allows participating officials to review the implementation of AGOA, as well as chart new ways forward in building closer ties between the United States and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Clinton, Washington’s top diplomat is due to arrive in Kenya on Tuesday as part of her seven nation African tour. The diplomat, who will be in the country for two days, is expected to speak at the AGOA summit.
Clinton will be accompanied by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, and Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Johnnie Carson.
Kirk and Clinton will discuss with African leaders the impact of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, a law that Congress passed and President Clinton signed into law in 2000.
Coincidentally, it was former President, Clinton’s husband, who signed into law the Act that seeks to enhance access to American markets for developing countries through preferential quotas and duty-free entry for more than 6,000 product tariff lines under the combined Agoa/Generalized System of Preferences (GSP).
The law gives trade incentives and preferences to State Department-approved African countries who want to do business with the United States government and its private sector.
African countries that promote free enterprise, democracy and the rule of law are certified by the State Department are eligible to participate in activities sponsored by the Act.
Clinton is also expected to highlight President Barack Obama’s commitment to making Africa a priority in U.S. foreign policy.
"Through the Obama Administration’s new food security efforts, we are striving to improve the security situation in developing regions around the world, which will also help reduce world hunger," said Vilsack ahead of the visit.
"I look forward to working with my counterparts at the forum to realize the benefits of this strategy to develop sustainable agriculture systems worldwide."
While in Kenya, Clinton is set to hold talks with Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Besides Kenya, Clinton’s five day trip will also take her to South Africa, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Liberia, and Cape Verde.
Her visit is the earliest in any U.S. administration that both the President and the Secretary of State have visited Africa. Talks with the president of Somalia’s transitional government Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed are also slated during her stay in Kenya.
The meeting comes at a critical moment for the lawless Horn of Africa, which has not had a functioning government since 1991 after long-time President Mohammed Siad Barre was overthrown.
The lawless nation currently is home to a growing number of hard-line Islamic insurgent groups including Al-Shabaab who have waged near-daily attacks against the transitional government.
Speaking ahead of the meeting, Kenyan Trade minister Amos Kimunya said African countries are yet to fully exploit the full potential of the AGOA initiative.
Kimunya said only a few countries such as South Africa, Lesotho, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Swaziland, Uganda and Tanzania are actively exporting to the U.S.
"These African exports are mainly in the textile and apparel sector. In Kenya, for instance, articles of apparel and clothing accessories contribute to about 70 percent of our total exports to AGOA," Kimunya told an AGOA experts group meeting in Nairobi on Sunday.
According to the local Daily Nation newspaper, the minister said progress made so far makes it more important for countries on the continent to re-evaluate their approaches towards making full use of opportunities under the Act.
"We need to address supply side constraints, product diversification and value addition," said the minister.
Kimunya said AGOA was very important for the 39 eligible countries in sub-Saharan Africa. This, he said, is because it not only stimulates governments to establish an enabling environment for growth in trade and investments, but also ensures improvements in governance, human rights, poverty reduction policy development and capacity building for producers, importers and exporters.
While in Kenya, Clinton will also address critical trade and political reforms including Agenda Four items in the accord signed by Kibaki and Odinga — mainly on historical injustices, comprehensive reforms, overhaul of police and judiciary, and justice for the post-election violence victims.
Clinton becomes the second Secretary of State to visit Kenya in recent times after her predecessor Condoleezza Rice who came in the middle of last year’s chaos.