Sunday, December 28, 2014

Gambia exported $ 10 million worth of goods to US under AGOA

The regime of Yaya Jammeh came out with an incoherent and bizarre statement that "congratulates the Government of the United States for the removal of The Gambia from the list of eligible sub-Saharan African countries under the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA)" of 2000.

The statement continued to claim that under AGOA "The Gambia has never benefited from it in the first place" since it designated a beneficiary country on March 2003.  The American Charge d'Affairs George Staples wasn't spared either in President Obama's proclamation withdrawing the Gambia's eligibility.  The Charge was accused of making unfavorable remarks in both local and international news outlets about the Gambia proving that "the Government of the United States has no good intentions for the people of The Gambia."

By quick reference to the fact sheet will reveal that government's claim that Gambia never benefited from AGOA is clearly untrue.  Although The Gambia was declared eligible in 2003/04, records show that between 2000 - 2013, Gambia exported goods to the United States worth close to $ 10 million.

Total value of Gambian exports to the U.S. between 2000 - 2003 before AGOA eligibility amounted to $1.2 million.  Exports picked up slightly after AGOA.  Like many sub-Saharan African countries, limited capacities of local businesses to take full advantage of AGOA.  As recently as last October, Gambia's Trade Minister, Abdou Jobe, lamented that "despite support measures,...utilization rates...under the scheme is still minimal in the case of the Gambia."

The underestimation of AGOA preferences has also been a concern of American authorities at the local level.  David Greathouse of the U.S. Embassy in Banjul recently challenged Gambian entrepreneur to be imaginative, especially in the "design and finishing of their products." In the US market, the product must not only be of high quality but it must be appealing to the eye, therefore, packaging of the product and its display on the shelf could be the difference between more or cancellation of orders.  

Gambian women have been the main beneficiaries of AGOA.  They have been at the vanguard of small entrepreneurship since the advent of Gambian tourism in the 1960s.  AGOA provided the opportunities but the government of the Gambia failed in providing the necessary support to take full advantage of the program.  The Gambia Investment and Export Promotion Agency's resource center has been underutilized since it was established, and there is no evidence that government has made efforts to improve the center's utilization.  The Government of the Gambia failed to make use of a AGOA facility to benefit the country's entrepreneurs.  Now they are looking for a scapegoat and they found one in Uncle Sam.