The United States has cut Ethiopia, Mali and Guinea out of a duty-free trade programme over alleged human rights violations and recent coups.
In a statement on Saturday, the US Trade Representative (USTR) said it terminated the three countries from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) “due to actions taken by each of their governments in violation of the AGOA Statute”.
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It said the US was deeply 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”, as well as by “the unconstitutional change in governments in both Guinea and Mali”.
There was no immediate comment from the Washington embassies of the three African countries.
The AGOA trade legislation provides sub-Saharan African nations with duty-free access to the US if they meet certain eligibility requirements, such as eliminating barriers to US trade and investment and making progress towards political pluralism.
In 2020, 38 countries were eligible for AGOA.
In its Saturday statement, the USTR said Ethiopia, Mali and Guinea may still rejoin the pact if they met the statute’s provisions.
“Each country has clear benchmarks for a pathway toward reinstatement and the Administration will work with their governments to achieve that objective,” it said.
US President Joe Biden had announced in November that Ethiopia would be cut off from the duty-free trading scheme provided under AGOA due to alleged human rights violations in the country’s north.
The war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region broke out in November of 2020 amid a power struggle between the Tigrayan leadership and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Abiy. Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the 13-month-long conflict, while about 400,000 are facing famine in Tigray alone.
The conflict has also destabilised the region, sending tens of thousands of refugees into Sudan, pulling Ethiopian soldiers out of war-ravaged Somalia and using the army from the neighbouring nation of Eritrea.
The US decision to suspend Ethiopia’s trade benefits threatens the country’s textile industry, which supplies global fashion brands, and the country’s nascent hopes of becoming a light manufacturing hub.
It also piles more pressure on an economy reeling from the conflict, the coronavirus pandemic, and high inflation.
Ethiopia’s Trade Ministry said in November it was “extremely disappointed” by Washington’s announcement, saying the move would reverse economic gains and unfairly affect and harm women and children.