Uganda kicked out of Agoa following controversial anti-gay law

United States President Joe Biden has officially removed Uganda and three other African countries from the beneficiaries of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), effectively ending Kampala’s ability to export certain commodities to the US duty-free.

In a decree dated December 29, President Biden said he has “determined” that the four countries “do not meet the requirements” necessary to allow them to continue benefitting from the trade deal, effecting his earlier stated plans to remove them from the list of beneficiaries.

“Accordingly, I have decided to terminate the designations of the Central African Republic, Gabon, Niger, and Uganda as beneficiary sub-Saharan African countries for purposes of section 506A of the Trade Act, effective January 1, 2024,” read the statement by Mr Biden.

In an October 2023 letter to the speaker of the US congress expressing his intention to remove the four countries from the list of Agoa beneficiaries, Biden said Uganda has “engaged in gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”

This came after Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni assented to the anti-gay law passed by the Ugandan lawmakers, which introduced serious repercussions, including life imprisonment or death, for same-sex relations in the country.

Uganda’s expulsion from the deal could destroy thousands of jobs, cause a foreign exchange earnings drought, and low utilisation of raw materials locally, experts have warned.

Since the establishment of the Agoa legislation in 2000 to allow several African countries to export several commodities to the US duty-free, Uganda has been a significant beneficiary of the programme.

In the 12 months to June 2023, Uganda’s exports to the US under Agoa amounted to $8.2 million, about 11.5 percent of Kampala’s total exports to the US in the same period, which totalled $70.7 million, data from the US department of commerce shows.

Over 80 percent of Uganda’s exports under the Agoa programme were from the agricultural sector, which employs about 72 percent of the country’s workforce, indicating that the expulsion could have a significant hit on Kampala’s jobs.

Uganda’s trade with the US is, however, smaller compared to its neighbours Kenya and Tanzania. In the 12 months to June 2023, Nairobi’s exports under Agoa totalled $268 million, representing 47 percent of total exports to the US.

Similarly, Dar es Salaam exported $47 million worth of commodities under Agoa, about 40 percent of its total exports to Washington.

Agoa is set to expire in December 2025, but American leaders, including trade officials, have expressed intentions of having it extended. Uganda could be readmitted into the programme if it shows commitment to meet the set criteria, which could mean scrapping its anti-gay law.

For example, Mauritania, which was suspended from the list in 2018, has just been returned into the fold.

In the region, Uganda now joins South Sudan, Somalia, and Burundi in the list of countries unable to benefit from the preferential trade agreement with the US. Juba was suspended in 2015 due to the rise of ethnic conflicts.

Other countries in sub-Saharan Africa that have been removed from the list are Ethiopia, Guinea, Mali, Gabon, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, the Gambia, Central African Republic, Zimbabwe, and Sudan.

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