The United States government recently announced the removal of Uganda, along with the Central African Republic, Gabon, and Niger, from the list of beneficiaries accessing the American market under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).
US President Joe Biden cited the failure of these countries to meet eligibility requirements as the reason for this decision.
In a letter to the Speaker of the House and President of the Senate, President Biden explained that Uganda, among other countries, did not meet the eligibility requirements outlined in Section 104 of AGOA.
The US President expressed concerns about Uganda’s gross violations of internationally recognised human rights, despite efforts made by the US government to engage with the country and address these issues.
The passage of the Anti-Homosexuality law in Uganda was a significant factor in the decision to remove the country from the AGOA program.
The US has condemned this law as a violation of universal human rights.
However, the Ugandan government has responded by accusing the West of blackmail and asserting its sovereignty.
Katherine Tai, an official from the United States Trade Representative Executive Office of the President in Washington, explained that United States law requires countries to meet certain standards to qualify for trade benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).
Public Law 106-200 specifies that, among other criteria, a country must “not engage in gross violations of internationally recognized human rights” to be eligible for AGOA benefits.
“President Biden has determined that Uganda currently does not meet this criterion and is set to lose its AGOA eligibility, effective from January 1, 2024. However, it is still possible for Uganda to retain its eligibility for AGOA benefits with urgent action,” she stated.
This is achievable if Uganda publicly releases an action plan to address human rights concerns and repeals the Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA).
In a letter dated October 31, 2023, addressed to Francis Mwebesa, Minister of Trade, Industry, and Cooperatives in Kampala, Uganda, Tai pointed out that the U.S. government has ongoing concerns about human rights issues in Uganda.
“These concerns have included calls for Uganda to refrain from human rights abuses and violations, even by members of government security forces, and to hold those responsible for such acts accountable,” she noted.
Tai further explained that the recent enactment and enforcement of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2023 is the latest in a series of actions by the Ugandan government that undermine respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Ugandans.
“The Anti-Homosexuality Act of Uganda threatens the human rights of LGBTQI+ individuals and those perceived to be LGBTQI+. It has created a hostile environment and is a violation of human dignity,” she emphasized in the letter.
Tai clarified that if Uganda takes prompt action on these two issues, it can avoid losing its AGOA eligibility on January 1, 2024.
However, if Uganda fails to address these concerns and loses its AGOA eligibility, the U.S. government will provide Uganda with a list of benchmarks for the restoration of AGOA benefits.
“I hope that you will swiftly and decisively address these issues to demonstrate Uganda’s commitment to human rights and democracy,” she added.
AGOA, initiated in 2000, provides duty-free access to the U.S. market for qualifying countries.
While it is set to expire in September 2025, discussions are already underway about whether to extend it and for how long.
African governments and industry groups are advocating for an early 10-year extension without changes to reassure businesses and new investors concerned about the future of AGOA.