Biden administration cutting Ethiopia from trade program over ‘gross violations’ of human rights

Associated Press/Evan Vucci

President Biden on Tuesday said he will end Ethiopia’s involvement in a trade agreement, citing violations of human rights. 

He told Congress in a memo that he would remove Ethiopia, as well as Guinea and Mali, as beneficiary sub-Saharan African countries under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which provides duty-free access to the United States.

He wrote that the countries do not fulfill the AGOA’s eligibility requirements, adding that Ethiopia is responsible for “gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”

Guinea and Mali, Biden said, both did not establish or advance toward establishing “the protection of the rule of law and of political pluralism” and Mali additionally did not make sufficient progress toward instituting “internationally recognized worker rights” and did not address “gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.” 

The Ethiopian Ministry of Trade and Regional Integration said in a statement on Tuesday that it is “extremely disappointed by the threat of AGOA withdrawal” and that it will conduct investigations into the human rights allegations.

“These actions will reverse significant economic gains in our country and unfairly impact and harm women and children. Ethiopia will continue to make every effort to correct any unintended or perceived wrongs,” it said in a statement.

Biden in September signed an executive order establishing new sanctions to target those responsible for prolonging the war in Ethiopia that has lasted for nearly a year. 

The Associated Press reported that Ethiopia’s government has lobbied against these sanctions, which go into effect Jan. 1. U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai told the AP her office would “provide each country with clear benchmarks for a pathway toward reinstatement and our Administration will work with them to achieve that objective.” 

The Ethiopian Ministry of Trade and Regional Integration said in its statement that the decision must be reversed by Jan. 1 and urged the U.S. to support its efforts to restore peace, adding that it takes human rights allegations seriously. 

U.S. Horn of Africa envoy Jeffrey Feltman said this week that the two sides in the war, Tigray forces and the Ethiopian government, “don’t seem anywhere near” a cease-fire or talks, the AP reported.

The U.S. and United Nations have said Ethiopian troops are preventing passage of trucks carrying food and aid into the country, resulting in starvation for its citizens.

— Updated at 12:17 p.m.

Tags African Growth and Opportunity Act duty-free Ethiopia Ethiopian War Guinea Joe Biden Katherine Tai Mali Person Communication trade agreement

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