It’s crunch time as the US AGOA debate moves to Johannesburg to settle crucial issues over the renewal of the trade deal

As the South African citrus season in the US ends, the focus has now shifted to the 20th US-sub-Saharan Africa Trade and Economic Cooperation Forum (AGOA) in Johannesburg this week.

Johannesburg from above Adobe

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The summit is a key element in the review process of AGOA, which is due to be finalised over the next three years.

AGOA has been a key element in promoting the trade of South African agricultural products, as well as other African nations, to the US.

The Cape citrus regions are the main beneficiaries and have built up a lucrative business in the US over the past 20 years.

Phenomenal growth

“The American market wants our good quality citrus – the phenomenal growth figures of the past few years show this,” said Justin Chadwick of the Citrus Growers’ Association (CGA).

“Between 2019 and 2022 the volume of citrus exported from South Africa to the US more than doubled,” he continued. ”This is largely due to the competitive edge AGOA gives us.

“A renewal of AGOA with South Africa part of it is essential for further growth. The potential is immense – currently we’re only exporting citrus to the US from the Northern and Western Cape regions because of unnecessary phytosanitary regulations.

“Expanding exports from other provinces, along with the edge AGOA gives us, can make the US citrus market a pillar of revenue and job creation in the citrus industry in South Africa,” Chadwick noted.

Some 35,000 local jobs throughout the supply chain, as well as an additional 20,000 jobs in the US, are sustained by US-SA citrus exports.

The country has been waiting since the start of the Biden administration for the final signing of an executive order which will allow growers in other South African citrus regions the opportunity to join the AGOA programme.

Sources have said that this could dramatically increase the South African citrus export programme to the US.\

Much controversy

There has been much controversy in the process of discussing the renewal of AGOA.

At one point, US law makers threatened to move the summit away from South Africa due to the country’s foreign policies.

It was also revealed that four African countries, Uganda, Gabon, Niger and the Central African Republic, had been taken off the list of countries benefitting from AGOA. In 2022 Ethiopia, Mali and Guinea were removed from the agreement.

South Africa has intensely lobbied the US government to retain AGOA membership despite negative feelings towards the country.

The country has completed its 2023 citrus export programme to the US, with Boet Mouton, chairman of the South African Summer Citrus Grower Group, confirming that the volume of citrus exported this year was between 10 per cent and 15 per cent higher than last year despite some difficult weather conditions during the season.

“We had a great season for Navels and Midnight oranges,” he said. ”Our mandarin season also went well but at times our picking and packing was disrupted.

“We are positive about retaining our AGOA membership because we see growth in the demand for our fruit.”