By NOELA EBOB BISONG
Following United States President, Donald J. Trump’s intention to suspend Cameroon from the AGOA list on basis of gross human rights violation by the country’s defence forces as they battle separatists in its two English-speaking regions, now restive for over three years, the government of Cameroon, through its Minister of Communication has condemned the move by Trump, describing it as an attack and one aimed at weakening the country’s institutions.
According to government’s spokesman, Minister Rene Emmanuel Sadi, “We strongly condemn attacks against Cameroon which reflect a desire to weaken our institutions and undermine the morale of our defence and security forces in their mission to restore order and preserve our territorial integrity.”
The statement was released shortly after Donald Trump sent a message to the US Congress, providing notice of his intent to terminate the designation of the Republic of Cameroon as a beneficiary sub-Saharan African country under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).
The statement, issued on Thursday, October 31, 2019 is said to be in accordance with section 506A(a)(3)(B) of the Trade Act of 1974, as amended (19 U.S.C. 2466a(a)(3)(B)).
According to Trump, “I am taking this step because I have determined that the Government of Cameroon currently engages in gross violations of internationally recognized human rights, contravening the eligibility requirements of section 104 of the AGOA.”
In the statement, Trump furthers that “Despite intensive engagement between the United States and the Government of Cameroon, Cameroon has failed to address concerns regarding persistent human rights violations being committed by Cameroonian security forces. These violations include extrajudicial killings, arbitrary and unlawful detention, and torture.”
Trump spells out that “I intend to terminate the designation of Cameroon as a beneficiary sub-Saharan African country under the AGOA as of January 1, 2020.”
Nonetheless, Trump, currently battling impeachment moves back home in the US, maintains that “I will continue to assess whether the Government of Cameroon engages in gross violations of internationally recognized human rights, in accordance with the AGOA eligibility requirements.”
Nonetheless, following President Trump’s intentions, The US Embassy in Cameroon that same day issued a Press Release titled ‘U.S. Commitment to Cameroon Remains Strong Despite Change in AGOA Status’. The Embassy clarified that “Under U.S. law, countries receiving AGOA benefits are subject to regular reviews to assess criteria set out by the U.S. Congress in the legislation that created AGOA. After this comprehensive review process, the President found Cameroon to be out of compliance with AGOA’s eligibility criteria due to its engagement in gross violations of internally recognized human rights. The President can reinstate Cameroon as a beneficiary of AGOA when it again meets the criteria, and we remain committed to working with Cameroon to do so.”
The release further states that in “…The United States is a committed partner and friend of Cameroon, and we will continue to pursue robust and diverse commercial ties, working with other tools at our disposal toward realizing the enormous potential of this relationship for our mutual prosperity and economic growth.”
However, according to US Diplomat, Herman Cohen, “By removing Cameroon’s duty-free access to U.S. markets under AGOA, President Trump has sent a signal to the Biya regime that increased pressure will be applied if a negotiated settlement to the insurgency in the Anglophone regions is not reached soon.”
The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) is a trade agreement between the US and 39 sub-Saharan African nations. It was enacted in 2000 by the Bill Clinton administration. AGOA provides duty-free trade access to the US market for certain products by the eligible sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries.
The trade agreement was renewed again in 2015 by then President, Barack Obama and is set to expire in 2025, the longest in the programme’s history.
The impact that AGOA has on the economies of the beneficiary countries is considerable. AGOA is the sole reason that has enabled the SSA countries to compete in the global apparel industry and sustain, even when competitors like India and China have better technology and capital. In 2018, Cameroon exported roughly $220 million in goods and services to the United States; $63 million was exported under AGOA, over 90 percent of which was crude petroleum.
By NOELA EBOB BISONG