Apparel Sourcing Intelligence - Worldwide

Will a renewed AGOA really transform Africa’s struggling garment exports?

There’s a lot more behind African apparel exports’ dismal record than the stop-start history of one US trade concession, I argued in my June 9 Flanarant.

That Flanarant looked at what’s happened to Africa’s clothing exports to the EU and US since 2000, when the US launched duty-free access for garments made most sub-Sahara African countries under the African Growth and Opportunity Act, or AGOA.

African share of EU US importsIt’s not an encouraging history, and I argued that Asian competitors have got a lot stronger – and more productive since 2000, whereas African garment makers haven’t. Whether or not America’s AGOA programme – which expires on September 30 – gets renewed (and America’s dysfunctional legislature makes predicting what it will do as reliable as forecasting English weather), Africa’s factories and infrastructure will need huge improvements to catch up with what’s happened in Asia over the past 15 years.

The future of US or EU trade rules, and the level of foreign investment are just part of the issue. African nations who want to compete need decent transport, honest and efficient Customs procedures, reliable power supplies, fully trained workers, sensitive management and fast access to raw materials – none of which are easy to find in most African garment-making nations.

AGOA merely offers to almost all African nations what the EU already offers to Mauritius, Kenya and Africa’s poorest countries. Yet those countries have kept on losing share of the EU market every year since 2002.

Getting AGOA renewed is just the first step African garment makers need to take for a successful export programme. I see very little sign many of them can see much beyond more lobbying.