US formally dismisses Uganda from AGOA despite lobby efforts

Kampala, Uganda | By Michael Wandati | The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) has been revoked for Uganda and three other African nations by the United States (U.S).

President Joe Biden, through a decree dated December 29, officially removed these countries as beneficiaries, thereby terminating Kampala’s privilege to export specific commodities to the US duty-free.

The decision follows President Biden’s earlier announcement of delisting these nations, stating that they no longer meet the requirements to maintain eligibility under the trade deal.

“Accordingly, I have decided to terminate the designations of the Central African Republic, Gabon, Niger, and Uganda as beneficiary sub-Saharan African countries for purposes of section 506A of the Trade Act, effective January 1, 2024,” read the statement by the US President Joe Biden.

In October 2023, President Biden informed the US Congress of his decision to exclude Uganda and three other countries from AGOA, citing “gross violations of internationally recognized human rights” by Uganda. This move followed President Museveni’s approval of an anti-gay law imposing severe penalties, including life imprisonment or death, for same-sex relations.

Experts caution that Uganda’s expulsion from AGOA could lead to job losses, a decline in foreign-exchange earnings, and reduced local utilization of raw materials. Uganda has been a significant AGOA beneficiary since the program’s establishment in 2000, with exports totaling $8.2 million in the 12 months to June 2023, constituting 11.5 per cent of its total US exports.

Over 80 per cent of Uganda’s AGOA exports, primarily from the agricultural sector employing 72 per cent of the workforce, could face a substantial impact on jobs. Although Uganda’s trade with the US is smaller compared to Kenya and Tanzania, the expulsion poses significant economic challenges.

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AGOA, scheduled to expire in December 2025, might see an extension, with Uganda having the opportunity for readmission by demonstrating a commitment to meet criteria, possibly involving repealing its anti-gay law. Similar cases, like Mauritania’s return in 2018 after suspension, highlight potential pathways for Uganda’s reentry.

In the region, Uganda joins South Sudan, Somalia, and Burundi on the list of countries unable to benefit from the US preferential trade agreement.

Juba was suspended in 2015 due to ethnic conflicts. Other sub-Saharan African countries previously removed from the list include Ethiopia, Guinea, Mali, Gabon, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, The Gambia, Central African Republic, Zimbabwe, and Sudan.