An analysis of South Africa exports to the United States under the African Growth Opportunity Act

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) is a unilateral trade policy concession governing United States - Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) trade and investment relations. AGOA provides United States market access for 40 SSA countries, including South Africa. This piece of legislation has the fundamental objective of facilitating the global integration of SSA countries into the world economy by extending preferential access to the United States market for exporters from eligible countries. Over the past decade, AGOA has emerged as a topical issue as scholars and policy makers sought to understand its impact on SSA, especially South Africa. This has been awarded more impetus given its pending expiration in 2015. This, naturally, raised questions about the performance of United States preference programs (such as AGOA) as part of a larger ongoing debate on the form that United States preference programs may take in the foreseeable future. With South Africa facing a serious opposition to inclusion in the next shape of AGOA given the number of trade agreements South Africa has signed with countries that are competitors to United States in certain product categories. This study will seek to highlight the importance of the AGOA dispensation to South Africa, and through that analysis make a case for the continued inclusion of South Africa in the future trade dispensations that may develop. This study focuses on two research objectives; firstly, the study seeks to assess the extent to which increased preferential access to the United States market has translated into a real and tangible increase in exports from South Africa to the United States. Secondly, the study seeks to identify the areas where South Africa and the United States have high trade potential, and help make a case for inclusion of these high potential trade products in the next iteration of the AGOA dispensation. In achieving the first research objective, the study carried out a detailed trade statistics analysis with the hope of gaining greater understanding of the extent to which AGOA has influenced trade patterns between the United States and South Africa. South Africa's trade figures show that the United States is an important trade partner. A key conclusion that can be drawn from the analysis is the observation that a fair amount of growth in South Africa's exports to the United States is fundamentally characterized by two key aspects namely; growth in specific commodities and an export base that is becoming gradually concentrated over time. This implies that trade between South Africa and the United States is shifting towards a new focus in line with AGOA incentives and by extension one may conclude that South African firms are utilizing the market opportunities and the networks that enable them to effectively exploit the United States market. In fulfilling the second research objective, the detailed trade potential analysis that is propped up by a robust analysis of trade trends was carried out. The trade potential analysis identified thirteen commodity groups as having high potential for further exports into the United States market, and Pearls, precious stones and metals were identified as having the highest indicative trade potential, although the picture changes as the data is further disaggregated. This suggests that there is enormous potential and a great scope for export of pearls, precious stones and metals to the United States.

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