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US-African trade lagging despite free access, forum hears in Ivory Coast

Trade quadrupled in value from 2002 to 2008, a year when it reached $100 billion, but fell back in 2017

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the signing ceremony of the Compact Millenium challenge corporation (MCC) between the Ivorian government and the MCC

Trade between the United States and sub-Saharan Africa is in the doldrums despite a 2000 US law designed to boost access to the American market, a conference in Ivory Coast has been told. The African Growth and Opportunity Act, which in 2015 was extended to 2025, provides tariff-free access on 6,500 products to 39 countries, ranging from oil and agricultural goods to textiles, farm and handicrafts.

Trade quadrupled in value from 2002 to 2008, a year when it reached $100 billion, but fell back in 2017 to just $39 billion, according to figures compiled by the US agency USAID. The surplus is widely in Africa’s favour, but most exports to the US are in oil or petroleum-based products, not the industrialised goods that provide a value-added boost to local economies.

“I do not think that AGOA has been the game-changer for many countries on the continent that we hoped it would be,” Constance Hamilton, assistant US trade representative for Africa, told the 18th AGOA Forum, ending in the Ivory Coast’s economic capital Abidjan on Tuesday.

“AGOA has not led to the trade diversification for which we originally hoped,” she said in remarks on Monday. “Petroleum products continued to account for the largest portion of AGOA imports, with a 67 per cent share,” Hamilton said. 

“And the volume of AGOA trade remains modest. In the AGOA clothing sector, for example, we get about $1 billion per year from Africa,” he said, adding that this amounted to just one per cent of all US clothing imports.

The United States is Africa’s third-biggest trade partner after the European Union and China. But Africa attracts only about one per cent of all US foreign investment. Deputy US Trade Representative Curtis Mahoney said Washington had drawn up a “variety of new initiatives” to “lay the groundwork for an even closer trade and investment partnership”.

“We will combine the promise of the AfCFTA with these new US initiatives and help maximize the potential of US-Africa trade,” he said. The AfCFTA – the African Continental Free Trade Area – is a scheme for demolishing trade barriers among the 55-member African Union.

The long-negotiated agreement was ceremonially launched at a summit in July, but will need a year to become operational, the AU says.

According to the conclusions of a pre-forum meeting of ministers ahead of the Abidjan conference, only 18 out of 39 countries have set down a national strategy for exploiting the benefits of the AGOA.

Many African companies either do not know of the advantages that are on offer, or they do not know how to use them, the ministers found.

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Rwanda’s Skol brewer cancels sexist jokes on beer bottles after backlash

Skol Brewery Limited also promised to immediately discontinue its “Live Laugh Lager” campaign

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Rwanda's Skol brewer cancels sexist jokes on beer bottles after backlash

A Rwandan brewery apologised Tuesday for printing sexist jokes on its beer labels after its attempt at humour drew a stinging rebuke from some of the country’s top female officials.

Skol Brewery Limited also promised to immediately discontinue its “Live Laugh Lager” campaign, which saw the offending gags grace the back of its lager bottles and encouraged drinkers to share jokes to win prizes.

“When can a woman make you a millionaire? When you are a billionaire” read one, alongside a cartoon of a woman surrounded by shopping bags dreaming of a red sports car.

Displeasure at the sexist tone of the campaign — it was promoted by an image of three men laughing over beers — started on social media but soon high-ranking public officials were joining the fray.

“Such language demeaning women is not acceptable in our country, Rwanda. It shouldn’t be tolerated… and should be punished by law,” said Soline Nyirahabimana, Minister of Gender and Family promotion, on Twitter.

Rose Rwabuhihi, who heads Rwanda’s Gender Monitoring Office, a public watchdog, said the campaign was “totally unacceptable”, comments echoed by one of the country’s top crime fighters.

“This is not acceptable at all! Skol Rwanda should apologize and remove the product from the market. Otherwise, no woman, no man who supports women should buy or drink such a beer,” said Isabelle Kalihangabo, deputy secretary-general of Rwanda Investigation Bureau, the federal crime agency, on Twitter.

Rwanda is proud of its record on gender, with women filling some of the country’s top positions. It was the first African nation to achieve gender parity in cabinet and more than 60 per cent of its MPs are women.

The brewer, in a mea culpa issued on Twitter on Tuesday, said it was “very aware” of the backlash and took the matter “very seriously and apologise for any offence caused”.

“We’ve stopped production of these jokes,” said the brewer.

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Zimbabwe’s business community calls for economic reform

The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) had initiated a massive protest against worsening economic conditions

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Zimbabwe’s business community calls for economic reform
Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa. (Photo by Jekesai NJIKIZANA / AFP)

The Zimbabwe business community has called on its government to urgently address ordinary people’s concerns in order to avoid continuous loss of production time through protest shutdowns.

The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) had initiated a massive protest in central Harare to express growing impatience with the government’s failure to remedy a deepening economic crisis that has pushed many to the edge.

The government, however, insists that the pain caused by its tough policy measures was necessary for an economy which is reeling from decades of mismanagement under former President, Robert Mugabe.

Police moved on Thursday to impose an unpopular ban on the demonstration, setting the stage for ugly clashes with MDC followers.

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Nigeria’s state oil firm awards crude oil swap deals to 15 firms

The awarded oil firms include Vitol, Trafigura, oil major, BP and local downstream companies

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Nigeria's state oil firm awards crude oil swap deals to 15 firms
NNPC Towers, headquarters of Nigeria's state oil firm in Abuja, Nigeria. (File photo)

Nigerian state oil company, NNPC, has announced that 15 companies have won the right to swap the country’s crude oil for fuels, following a tender for the deals.

About 132 companies made a bid for the deals. The tender for the one-year contracts effective from the 1st of October and dubbed direct sale, direct-purchase (DSDP), was issued in March.

Nigeria is almost entirely reliant on imported fuel due to years of neglect at its own refineries.

It has leaned heavily on the swap arrangements to get fuel, particularly gasoline, as other would-be importers struggle to make money due to price caps.

The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation says the companies that won the bids are made up of a consortium of 15 companies including Vitol, Trafigura, oil major, BP and local downstream companies.

Since the scheme’s inception in 2016, replacing a program that paid subsidies to importers, the NNPC has said it had saved the country $2.2 billion and supplied some 90 per cent of its import requirements.

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