Passed by the U.S. Congress in 2000, AGOA allows certain goods from Sub-Saharan African countries -- notably petroleum products and apparel -- to enter the United States duty-free and largely without any quota restrictions. It also encourages the growth of the textile industry in Least Developed Countries (LDCs) by extending duty-free market access to apparel made using foreign sources of fibre, largely from Asia.
The agreement currently affects trade relations with 39 countries and has led to a large increase in trade between the United States and Africa. According to the office of the U.S. Trade Representative, in 1999 U.S. imports from Africa amounted to roughly 13.7 billion dollars. In 2006, the last year for which data is available, that number rose to 59.2 billion dollars.
But labour rights activists say the increase in trade and jobs brought by AGOA has not led to a corresponding improvement in conditions for workers. They argue many labourers work up to 16 hours a day for nothing more than the bare minimum legal wage, which they say falls well short of covering the cost of food, shelter and transportation.
"Our goal shouldn't simply be to provide any job through our [U.S.] trade policy," Bama Athreya, executive director of the International Labour Rights Forum, told attendees at the forum, "but to provide really decent jobs that come with dignity, respect, and the possibility that these workers can prosper in the future and expect a better life for their children."
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