AGOA: Ethiopia on the brink of losing access to lucrative US trade program due to human rights violations

President Joe Biden has stated that Ethiopia is not complying with the eligibility requirements of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) “for gross violations of internationally recognized human rights,” he said in a message to Congress on Tuesday.

The Ethiopian government must take “rapid action” by January 1 to remain in the program, which gives eligible sub-Saharan African nations duty-free access to the US market for thousands of products.

The moves come as the conflict in northern Ethiopia approaches its grim annual milestone and millions of Ethiopians risk starvation. There have been repeated calls from the United States and the international community to the parties to the conflict, including Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government, Eritrean forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), to end the hostilities.

“We call on the Ethiopian government to take urgent steps to end all serious human rights violations, provide unhindered access to international human rights monitors, remove barriers to humanitarian operations,” said another senior administration official. “We urge all parties to halt military operations that cause extensive loss of life and threats to civilians, and to come to the negotiating table without preconditions.”

Ethiopian government ‘extremely disappointed’

Ethiopia’s Ministry of Trade and Regional Integration said in a statement on Tuesday that it “is extremely disappointed with the threat of AGOA withdrawal, which is currently being considered by the US government.”

“These actions will reverse significant economic gains in our country and unfairly affect and harm women and children,” the statement said.

“Ethiopia will continue to make every effort to correct any unintentional or perceived error,” the ministry said, adding: “This decision must be reversed by January 1, 2022, and we urge the United States to support our ongoing efforts to restore peace and the rule of law – do not punish our people for confronting a rebel force that is trying to overthrow our democratically elected government. “

“The Ethiopian government takes all human rights allegations seriously: we look at them and conduct investigations, and we are committed to ensuring accountability,” they said.

Ethiopia used its commercial flagship to transport weapons during the war in Tigray

CNN has reported extensively on human rights violations committed during the conflict, including detentions, sexual assaults and killings that bear the hallmarks of genocide – results that have contributed to calls from two-legged legislators to the administration to act.

A study by CNN released in early October showed that the Ethiopian government has used the country’s flagship commercial airline, Ethiopian Airlines, to transport weapons to and from neighboring Eritrea during the war. Ethiopian Airlines said in a statement that it “strongly” refuted the results of the investigation.

The CNN investigation also sparked calls from U.S. lawmakers for sanctions and investigations into Ethiopia’s AGOA eligibility. At the time, U.S. officials told CNN they would review Ethiopia’s eligibility in 2022, the planned review point.

‘Can not continue’ business as usual ‘

U.S. special envoy to the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman said Tuesday that “as the war approaches its one-year anniversary, the United States and others cannot continue ‘business as usual’ relations with the Ethiopian government.”

“The extraordinary partnership we have had is not sustainable, while the military conflict continues to expand and threatens the stability and cohesion of one of Africa’s most influential countries … and the fundamental welfare of its people,” he said in a statement. the U.S. Peace Institute on Tuesday.

On the pending termination of Ethiopia’s participation in the AGOA, Feltman said, “The United States did not want to do this and we have had a preview with the Ethiopian government for several months that this was a risk.”

“What I hope the benefit of this is that they basically have some time to prevent us from actually moving forward with implementing the loss of eligibility in January.”

Feltman, whom the Ethiopian government refused a visit from last month, said he was ready to travel to Ethiopia. He called on all parties to the conflict to cease hostilities.

Calls for ‘correct course’

Last week, the top Republicans in the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee called on the Abiy government to “set the course and avert a recall of AGOA benefits.”

“It is up to Prime Minister Abiy to take immediate, concrete action to prevent further serious human rights violations and to bring Ethiopia into line with its obligations to both the Ethiopian people and the legitimacy requirements of this Trade Preference Program,” Sen. Jim Jim Risch and rep. Michael McCaul said.

Democratic Senator Chris Coons – who was sent to Addis Ababa by the Biden administration in March to meet with Abiy – said on Tuesday: “I’m sorry this has happened, but I support the president’s decision to follow the letter of the law.”

“The bipartisan legislation that established AGOA is crystal clear – countries that violate internationally recognized human rights cannot participate,” he said in a statement to CNN. “I urge the Ethiopian government, the TPLF and other warring parties to protect human rights, work immediately towards a political solution to the conflict and open and maintain humanitarian access channels so that the United States and Ethiopia can restore and rebuild our partnership.”

“Offer the administrator’s decision to end Ethiopia’s entitlement to trade preferences under the African Growth & Opportunity Act in January absent urgent action to stop human rights violations. The parties to the conflict in Ethiopia must be held accountable for unscrupulous abuses,” Sen. Bob Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, tweeted Tuesday.

In a virtual meeting in late August with Ethiopia’s senior political adviser and Chief Trade Negotiator Mamo Mihretu, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai “raised the ongoing violations of internationally recognized human rights amid the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis in northern Ethiopia that may affect Ethiopia’s future African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) justification if not addressed, “according to a reading from her office.

USA ‘can not see the other way’

The first official in the administration said Biden made the decision on Ethiopia’s non-compliance with AGOA requirements after “a month-long review and public call for information.”

“The government cannot engage in gross human rights violations and must cooperate in international efforts to eliminate human rights violations, and the United States cannot look the other way on these criteria, nor should we,” they said.

This official said they announced the move to revoke Ethiopia’s AGOA access now in line with the typical 60-day statutory notice under the law. They said there is a process by which Ethiopia could be “reinstated once the appropriate measures have been taken”, even if it takes place before the 2022 annual review of its justification.

Facebook knew it was being used to incite violence in Ethiopia.  It did not do much to stop the spread, documents show

The governments of Mali and Guinea are also set to be fired from the AGOA on January 1, 2022 due to “unconstitutional (changes) in government,” according to U.S. Trade Representative Tai.

“These countries are set to be removed from this program because of actions taken by their governments in violation of the AGOA Statute,” she said in a statement. “The United States urges these governments to take the necessary steps to meet the statutory criteria so that we can resume our valued trade partnerships. reach this goal. “

In a statement published in Foreign Policy last month, Ethiopia’s chief negotiator Mihretu argued that “removing AGOA eligibility would only aggravate the situation for ordinary Ethiopians, who have no connection to the Tigray conflict,” including women and low-income workers.

The other senior official in the administration said they “sincerely hope that the Prime Minister will use this opportunity, this space, and in the light of what is happening on the ground, to take positive steps to get to the negotiating table for the sake of the country and for the country. the women … who will be affected by this. “

“It is really up to Prime Minister Abiy to take the steps he needs to hopefully avert the trigger of exclusion from January 1,” they said.

This story has been updated with additional reaction and background information.

CNN’s Nicole Gaouette, Bethlehem Feleke and Nima Elbagir contributed to this report.


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