The United States government has cut crucial trade ties with three African countries over alleged human rights violations and military coups.
Guinea, Mali and Ethiopia were removed from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a duty-free trade programme, according to an announcement by the agency.
While the West African neighbours, Guinea and Mali, were removed for the interruption of their democratic processes due to recent military coups, the Eastern African nation is being punished for human rights violations occasioned by its ongoing war with separatist groups in its northern Tigray region.
The US Trade Representative (USTR) said in a statement on Saturday that it terminated the three countries’ membership from AGOA “due to actions taken by each of their governments in violation of the AGOA Statute”.
The statement added that the US was concerned “by the gross violations of internationally recognised human rights being perpetrated by the government of Ethiopia and other parties amid the widening conflict in northern Ethiopia” and for “the unconstitutional change in governments in both Guinea and Mali”.
Founded in 2000, AGOA has been at the core of the United States’ economic policy and commercial engagement with Africa. It provides eligible sub-Saharan African countries with duty-free access to the US market for over 1,800 products, in addition to the more than 5,000 products that are eligible for duty-free access under the Generalized System of Preferences programme.
African countries have to meet rigorous eligibility requirements, which must include establishing or making continual progress toward establishing a market-based economy, the rule of law, political pluralism, and the right to due process.
Eligible countries must also eliminate barriers to US trade and investment, enact policies to reduce poverty, combat corruption and protect human rights.
The move on Saturday marks a fulfilment of a threat by US President Joe Biden in November to remove Ethiopia from the programme over alleged human rights violations in its protracted war in Tigray. The conflict, which has gone for over a year since November 2020 when it broke out, is reported to have led to the death of thousands of people, with thousands more facing hunger due to the humanitarian crisis it occasioned.
The US is one of Ethiopia’s biggest trade partners, especially in its textile industry.
Mali has been under military rule since August 2020, when the military removed the democratically elected government of former president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. About one year later, a civilian led transition administration installed with the support of the regional bloc, Ecowas, was again removed by the military, prompting international condemnation.
Guinea was plunged into a military rule after its military overthrew its long-term leader Alpha Conde.
Both countries were slammed with sanctions by Ecowas, which called on its international partners, including the US, to follow suit.
The US is also unhappy with Mali over the Sahel nation’s decision to forge military ties with Russia.
Nonetheless, according to the US government, all three sanctioned countries have a chance to be reinstated into the AGOA fold if they meet its requirements in line with its founding provisions.
“Each country has clear benchmarks for a pathway toward reinstatement and the Administration will work with their governments to achieve that objective,” the statement from the USTR notes.