US to cut Ethiopia from trade program over human rights
President Joe Biden on Tuesday said that he's decided to cut out Ethiopia from a US trade program, setting the path for sanctions against the African nation over its failure to end a nearly yearlong war in the Tigray region that has led to “gross violations” of human rights.
Biden in a letter to Congress said Ethiopia has not met eligibility requirements to remain a beneficiary of the African Growth and Opportunity Act. The program provides sub-Saharan African nations duty-free access to the United States on the condition they meet certain requirements, including eliminating barriers to US trade and investment and making progress towards political pluralism.
The sanction goes into effect on January 1.
Biden also cited Guinea and Mali in the letter for being out of compliance. The president said Ethiopia was in “gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”
Ethiopia's government, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the White House action, had lobbied openly against the move.
Biden’s announcement came as US Horn of Africa envoy Jeffrey Feltman told reporters that the parties to the conflict “don’t seem anywhere near” a cease-fire or talks and called the humanitarian conditions in Tigray “unacceptable.”
“Without question, the situation is getting worse and worse, and frankly we are getting alarmed by the situation,” he said, referring not only to the Ethiopian government blockade on the Tigray region but the Tigray forces’ push into the neighbouring regions of Amhara and Afar in the past four months, widening the humanitarian crisis.
In a commentary last month in Foreign Policy magazine, Ethiopia’s chief trade negotiator Mamo Mihretu wrote that “Ethiopia’s fledgling manufacturing sector could face an existential threat” and “removal of AGOA eligibility would only worsen the condition of ordinary Ethiopians who have no connection to the Tigray conflict.”
He said that under AGOA in 2000, Ethiopia exported goods worth "a minuscule $28 million to the United States; in 2020, that figure rose roughly tenfold and stood at close to $300 million, nearly half of it under the AGOA.”
He asserted that Ethiopia’s removal from AGOA “would deal a serious blow to the welfare of millions of low-income workers.”
Ethiopia in recent years had one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies, but the war has brought that momentum to a halt.