According to the United Nations, over a quarter of the world’s population will live in Africa by 2050. That will be something like 2.5 billion people. With less than 4 percent of the world’s wheat production, Africa will require significant imports to feed its growing population. A major factor in in ensuring a predictable, stable supply of a staple food like wheat is through predictable, rules-based trade policies.
That is one reason why the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) should start transitioning countries from the one-sided preferential arrangement of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) to a more reciprocal trading relationship based around free trade agreements (FTAs).
Gerald Theus has represented U.S. wheat farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa as U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) Interim Regional Director in Cape Town, South Africa for nearly three decades. He highlighted the need for reciprocal trade, for the benefit of both U.S. farmers and African millers and consumers, in recent submission to the U.S. International Trade Commission.
The submission points out that the United States only has one FTA in Africa – with Morocco – and that FTA has significant limitations. There is a pressing need to negotiate new agreements with African countries so that trade policies can be reciprocal and those countries can benefit from both exports and imports.
Theus laments that the European Union (EU) has managed to outmaneuver the United States by converting its trade preferences into reciprocal access, pointing to the 300,000 ton duty-free quota enjoyed by its exporters into southern Africa, sidelining U.S. opportunities in that region.
If U.S. farmers are to be competitive in Africa, the U.S. government needs to negotiate new market access (the same holds true in Latin America, the Asia-Pacific region, and elsewhere). No new deals have been struck since 2007.
USTR Robert Lighthizer recently stated that it was his intention to negotiate a “model” FTA with an African country. That is an encouraging step, because the United States clearly needs to develop closer trading relationships with its African partners. As Theus notes, there should be strong affinity between the views expressed in his submission and the statements of USTR Lighthizer on reciprocal free trade.
There is plenty of opportunity in Africa. U.S. farmers hope to see their wheat play a part in a bright future for the continent.