WASHINGTON (IPS)–The United States and 38 Sub-Saharan African nations began discussions of a trade pact that Washington says would give Africa greater access to the U.S. market at Final Call press time. But critics call the effort little more than a “colonial” sham.

The second annual trade and development forum in Mauritius, which ends Jan. 17, is organized under the controversial African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a trade deal passed in the United States in 2000 to offer preferential access for about 1,800 African products.

U.S. officials who are leading some of the meetings say trade will again top the agenda, followed by foreign investment and reform of Africa’s agricultural sector.


“The focus is on trade, and that reflects the fact that we believe trade is an essential part of a successful development strategy,” U.S. Undersecretary for Economic, Business and Agricultural Affairs, Allan Larson, told reporters.

But Mr. Larson also said U.S. officials will press for new “standards” and “trade capacity,” which African nations would have to adopt to qualify for the deal.

Critics say the United States is imposing “eligibility requirements” or conditions that African nations must follow before they take part in AGOA.

Under the deal, African countries can only export tariff free to the U.S. market if they meet certain criteria and U.S. officials certify that they have liberalized their economies, privatized their public assets, minimized government interference in private business and created a U.S.-style legal system.

“These imposed conditionalities are bluntly referred to as ‘eligibility requirements’,” said a statement by a coalition of African groups that protested the meeting. “What these overt and other covert conditionalities in AGOA amount to, is a re-colonization of Africa,” said the coalition, known as The Peoples’ Forum.

At press time, the group announced plans to hold many street demonstrations in Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius, to coincide with the meetings, which will be attended by at least 300 delegates, including 40 cabinet ministers.

The African groups said in their statements that African governments are now forced to adhere to U.S. foreign policy, U.S. national security policy, and U.S. imposed economic and social policies in order to get access to the lucrative U.S. market.

They are particularly angered that under AGOA, African nations must agree not to “engage in activities that undermine United States national security or foreign policy interests.”

That means, they say, that African countries’ foreign policies and national security policies will be determined by the United States and by Washington’s interests on the continent.

The groups charge that AGOA actually assists U.S. multinational companies to control over Africa’s precious resources, such as oil, gold, diamonds and other minerals and metals.

The coalition’s statement claims that U.S. multinationals have requested land titles to the sites of their operations and even asked the U.S. military to guard these operations to safeguard against civil and military disturbances.

African countries are also required to adopt “free market policies,” privatize social services and withdraw price controls and subsidies in areas such as agriculture and fishing, which the Forum says can hurt the poor.