Nigeria’s diplomatic dexterity saved the situation in Lusaka at the weekend as Ethiopia and Cameroon lurched at each other over which of them would hold the next ministerial forum of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).
AGOA is the arrowhead of the United States trade relationship with entrepreneurs in sub-Sahara Africa.
It was put in place by the former President Bill Clinton’s administration in 2000 to allow 37 sub-Sahara African countries export 6,500 value added products to the U.S. over a period of 15 years, unfettered, duty free and tax free.
Under AGOA, ministers of trade and relevant officials of eligible African countries and their U.S. counterparts meet annually in the U.S. and in one of the countries, alternately.
The 2010 edition of the forum was held in Washington, while the one that preceded it was held in Kenya in 2009 after Ethiopia, which had offered to host the forum that year, stepped down for its east African neighbour.
Ethiopia also stepped down for Zambia to host the 2011 edition of the forum.
It was Ethiopia’s second time of stepping aside for another African country, so as to allow the smooth implementation of the spirit and content of AGOA.
At the 10th meeting in Lusaka in June 2011, Ethiopia was confident that it would get the hosting right for the 2013 edition having made the offer thrice and having stepped down twice for other African countries.
Ethiopia, however, received a shock in Lusaka when its representatives at the ``Bureau of experts of AGOA-eligible African nations were told that Cameroon had suddenly offered to take the 2013 hosting right and expected Ethiopia to step down for it.
Cameroon’s argument was that since it had earlier been agreed in principle at the African Union level that the meetings of trade ministers under AGOA would be rotated among the sub-regional groups, it was time a central African country hosted the forum.
Kenya, it argued, hosted from the East African bloc in 2009 and Zambia from the Southern African bloc, hosted the forum in 2011.
Insiders at the just-concluded Lusaka edition of the ministerial meetings told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in the Zambian capital that all entreaties made to the two countries and diplomatic maneuvering by different interest groups did not yield any positive result until Nigeria interceded.
Nigeria’s High Commissioner to Zambia and Malawi, Folake Marcus-Bello, played the trump card and succeeded in persuading Ethiopia and Cameroon to sheath their swords.
``The vice-president of the AU had earlier appealed that Ethiopia and Cameroon should sit together and reach a consensus, but the approach failed.
Another consideration was for the ministers to vote and elect one of the two countries that were at loggerhead, but that also failed,’’ the insider told NAN.
He said: ``after the stalemate and the meeting was dragging to the wee hours of the following morning, Nigeria’s Amb. Marcus-Bello resorted to diplomatic shuttle between Ethiopia and Cameroon and succeeded in breaking the ice,’’ he said.
``Her solution was that since Africa would hold the 2013 and 2015 editions of the ministerial forum, Ethiopia should take the first shot in 2013 having stepped aside for fellow African countries twice in the past.
``Cameroon, she argued, should host the supposed grand finale forum in 2015, the year America intends to end AGOA, but we all know that the United States will extend AGOA beyond 2015.’’ (NAN)