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U.S. Senators Introduce Bill to Renew Trade Pact with Africa

A group of bipartisan senators has introduced a bill to extend the U.S. trade agreement with sub-Saharan Africa before it expires next year, as confirmed by an aide to one of the senators on Thursday. The bill, led by Senators Chris Coons, a Democrat, and James Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has garnered support from a cross-party coalition including Senators Dick Durbin, Michael Bennet, Chris van Hollen, Todd Young, and Mike Rounds.

The primary focus is to reauthorize the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) this year, with the proposed bill extending the program for 16 years until 2041. This legislation aims to assist countries in developing strategies to maximize the benefits of AGOA. Notably, it includes provisions to allow countries to maintain benefits even as they achieve higher income levels, ensuring continued participation in the program.

The bill proposes a shift from annual to biennial eligibility reviews for countries, with provisions for out-of-cycle reviews by the U.S. president and specific congressional leaders. If a country is deemed ineligible, the president would have various enforcement options, ranging from full benefit termination to no action, deviating from the current requirement of automatic termination for non-compliant countries.

While an earlier draft of the bill singled out South Africa for an immediate review, this version opts for a broader approach, allowing for out-of-cycle reviews without singling out specific countries. Despite concerns about South Africa’s activities, the bill’s flexibility addresses these issues more broadly.

Senate Finance Committee’s Democratic aide mentioned that Chairman Ron Wyden supports the renewal of AGOA and looks forward to collaborating with relevant committees and members to craft a bipartisan and bicameral bill. President Joe Biden has expressed his support for renewing the pact, originally enacted in 2000, highlighting the significant trade volume facilitated by AGOA.

The extension of AGOA is crucial for American business groups seeking stability and predictability in trade relations with African nations, especially amidst global efforts to reduce reliance on Chinese manufacturing. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer’s aide did not provide an immediate response to requests for comments on the matter.

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