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,” said one senior administration official.

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 Biden administration is also preparing to issue sanctions under a decree signed by Biden in September approving broad sanctions against those involved in committing the ongoing conflict, according to officials.

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 the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, for an end to hostilities.

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“We communicate to the Ethiopian government that there is still time to avoid or reverse these actions if they take urgent action,” said another senior administration official.

“We call on the Ethiopian government to take swift action by ensuring an end to all serious human rights violations, providing unhindered access to international human rights monitors, removing barriers to humanitarian operations,” they continued. “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.”

The official said that the US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman, whom the Ethiopian government refused a visit from last month, “is ready to travel to Ethiopia to engage with the government this week, and we hope he will be received and his visit accepted. “

CNN has reported extensively on human rights violations committed during the conflict, including arrests, 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 had 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.

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 in the midst of 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.

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.”

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“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 can be “reinstated once the appropriate measures have been taken”, even if it takes place before the 2022 annual review of its justification.

In a statement published in Foreign Policy last month, Ethiopia’s trade chief Mihretu argued that “the removal of 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.

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