Ethiopia protests against US decision to revoke duty-free access

US cited disapproval of war in Tigray region for removal of preferential trade benefits

A truck carrying grain in Addis Ababa. The US and the UN say Ethiopian authorities have prevented lorries from delivering desperately needed food and other aid into Tigray. Photo: Reuters
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Ethiopia has said it is "saddened" by a US decision to revoke duty-free access for the East African country’s exports.

The announcement by Ethiopia’s trade ministry on Monday came after the Biden administration on December 23 terminated the country’s eligibility for benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act. The US cited its disapproval of the war in the Tigray region for the action.

“The Ethiopian government is saddened over the decision by the US to remove it,” from the preferential trade benefits, the ministry said. It asked the US to reconsider its decision.

“Ethiopia is carrying out various initiatives aimed at bringing peace and stability, political consensus and economic development in addition to conducting reforms in line with the long-standing relationship between the two countries,” it said.

The US withdrew the country’s eligibility for the trade benefits despite pleas by a few US legislators and Ethiopian lobby groups who asked the Biden administration to give the country more time to comply with US demands.

The decision against the African nation was made over its failure to end a nearly year-long war in the Tigray region that has led to gross breaches of human rights, said the White House.

Guinea and Mali will also be barred from receiving the trade benefits as of January 1.

The Africa Growth and Opportunity Act provides sub-Saharan African nations duty-free access to the US on the condition they meet certain requirements, including eliminating barriers to US trade and investment and making progress towards political pluralism.

The US and the UN say Ethiopian authorities have prevented lorries from delivering desperately needed food and other aid into Tigray. Scores of people have starved to death, the Associated Press has reported.

In September, President Biden warned that his administration would levy sanctions if Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed did not take steps to wind down the war in Tigray and other regions.

On November 3, Ethiopia’s foreign ministry labelled the move as “misguided” and “unjustified intimidation” and said the decision could affect the livelihoods of more than 200,000 low-income Ethiopians who work for companies that benefit from the preferential trade access.

Companies beginning to leave

Some Ethiopian companies are already showing signs of a downturn in their export business.

“Several companies have already started leaving and we don’t know what is next,” a textile worker at the Hawassa Industrial Park, some 270km south of the capital, Addis Ababa, told the AP by phone on condition of anonymity fearing for his workplace safety.

Ethiopia in recent years had one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies, but the war in Tigray has dampened that momentum.

Updated: December 28, 2021, 2:48 PM