The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), commenced a two-day sensitization workshop for economic operators on the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and Food Safety Act in Monrovia.
However, the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) is a U.S. unilateral trade preference program that allows eligible countries in sub-Saharan Africa to export to the United States up to 6,900 products duty-free, increasing trade and investments between the United States and sub-Saharan Africa.
The workshop, which started on July 18, will continue on July 20, 2023. It is also being held in partnership with the Liberia Chambers of Commerce (LCC) and aims to create awareness for the Liberian private sector about the benefits and opportunities provided by AGOA and the Food Safety Act.
It also focuses on explaining the eligibility criteria, the product categories covered under AGOA, and how businesses can take advantage of this preferential trade agreement. During the workshop, participants receive comprehensive training on AGOA, a legislation that provides eligible African countries with duty-free access to the US market for various products.
Speaking during the opening, Mr. Natty B. Davis, LCC First Vice President, told the participants that the event was more like a technical workshop intended to further integrate the benefits that should accrue to Liberia and Liberian businesses with respect to AGOA.
Davies informed the Liberian private sector that AGOA allows illegible countries in Sub-Saharan Africa including Liberia to export certain goods to the United States duty-free or with a reduced tariff.
While declaring the workshop officially open, Davis encourages each of the participants to fully form part of the discussion and look forward to a successful program.
According to him, AGOA is a laudable initiative, but in order for it to be beneficial to both parties—the United States and Liberia, but most particularly to businesses that are operating in Liberia—it is necessary that the policy environment take a look at “our policymakers and develop a policy response in order to support enterprises and business development.”
He noted that trade facilitation and market access need interventions in those areas, especially in export promotion, market information, financial support and incentives, capacity building, and technical assistance.
Accordingly, he stated that these are areas that local businesses are challenged with because they have to be able to bring their product capacity up to a certain level to actually be able to take their product to AGOA.
“Small businesses, medium businesses, and whole sector businesses he said, need a variety of various types of financial products in order to facilitate their development and growth, and so the current market inexistence for financial services is really, to a large extent, short-term and learn to trade and not necessary in terms of some of those other things to facilitate business growth and development.
"Technical assistance is very critical to supporting businesses that would like to get to a point where they can access and utilize the opportunities that will exist under AGOA."
He emphasized the opportunities that exist under AGOA and that LCC could play a vital role in helping businesses utilize AGOA and AfCTA by providing information, resources, and networking opportunities.
Davis further stated that the LCC is willing to help businesses understand the trade protocols as well as take advantage of the opportunities AGOA offers.
Saa Saamoi, Deputy Commissioner at the Liberia Revenue Authority, who spoke on behalf of the government, lauded the organizers for starting such a laudable discussion surrounding free trade and economic integration, which is critical to moving Liberia forward.
He said, "This workshop is quite important for us as the lead government on trade facilitation; the conversation around free trade agreements and economic integration is good and means a lot for us."
Saamoi further mentioned that economic integration is no longer a matter of interest for Liberia as a country but a necessary requirement because the time for dependency on commodity exports, especially primary Liberian commodities such as cocoa, coffee, rubber, and iron ore, is over.
According to him, it can no longer help Liberia advance because Liberia is a small economy, and therefore, economic diversification is quite important.
“We as a country, a small country of this nature, can no longer be upright insiders.” We have to work with the multilateral to sustain the continent's assistance to compete and take advantage of the larger market,” he explained. “The ECOWAS market provides answers to about 300 million consumers.”
Saamoi added that if a small country of this nature, led by the Chambers of Commerce, is able to tap into the market, it creates millions of dollars for the private sector, which encourages local businesses to take advantage of the economic diversification that the echoes were aiming for.
Also speaking, Dr. Gbemenou Joselin Benoit Gnonlonfin, Senior Sanitary and Phytosanitary Lead for ECOWAS, urged the participants to work together and utilize AGOA free trade.
He also warned them to desist from producing poorly made commodity food for the locals.
Gnonlonfin said, “You should produce safe food for both local and foreign markets because it would qualify you for the AGOA trade process.”
At the same time, the participants acknowledge the LCC, ECOWAS, and USAID for organizing such an important workshop that intends to connect to a bigger market under AGOA.
The participant further described the workshop as an eye-opener for them as people and as a country and vowed to do more under the trade agreement.
Zayzay F. Sillah, another participant, called on the government to have a focus person for AGOA at various ministries and agencies responsible for trade and commerce in the country.