It has taken the Trump administration to change my mind about the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) and to see that former president Nelson Mandela was right to worry about its "conditionalities". The epiphany came as I listened to US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer talk about Agoa — not as a way of encouraging investment in African export industries but as a stick to get African governments to play by the US’s rules. "They get duty preferences when they do that." I am not so naive as to deny there was always a stick element to Agoa, but I believed the stick would be applied judiciously and was worth tolerating in return for pretty much unfettered access to the world’s largest market. I thought SA was foolish to protect its lame poultry sector when Agoa was helping the country run a substantial trade surplus with the US. I also believed SA erred in balking at a reciprocal trade agreement with the US years earlier in place of unilateral Agoa. That way the chicken row m...

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