Written by: Emery Jochnau
United States President Donald Trump recently made a bold economic decision regarding the North African country of Cameroon. Trump announced that due to consistent human rights violations he would be cutting trade benefits for the country and removing them from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).
The AGOA is a US Trade Act which enables easier market access to the US for “qualifying Sub-Saharan African countries.” Essentially, these countries are able to sell goods to the U.S. on a duty free basis, which means they are exempt from any payment duties such as taxes and tariffs, with the qualifications being: improving its government, its human rights conditions, and respect for ‘core labor standards’. The AGOA was enacted in May of 2000 and has been extended and amended as economic opportunities continue to emerge for both the US and the Sub-Saharan African countries.
Trump’s statement that Cameroon has been committing massive Human Rights violations means that they no longer comply with the qualifications under the AGOA; the US claimed “that they are deeply concerned about the gross violations of human rights being committed by the Cameroon government against its own citizens.” Cameroon’s Minister has stated that the AGOA is not a concern of Cameroon’s, as it is a small part of their relationship with the US, and it harms America more than it affects Cameroon’s economy. The US Embassy in Cameroon valued the country’s export to the US at $220 million in 2018.
The Human Rights violations mentioned are a product of the Anglophone Crisis that began late 2016. Since the crisis, two opposing groups have emerged. The first being those people that side with the Anglophone separatists, who claim that the Cameroon government has been continually discriminating and marginalizing their people, and those who support the Cameroonian government. In Cameroon, there are Anglophone provinces, mainly located in the Northwest and Southwest region of the state. Many residents have pushed and begun protesting in hopes that a dialogue will be created on the topic of proposed autonomy for these regions from the rest of the country. Discussion of possible separation has been rejected and protests have continued as a result. These protests, though relatively peaceful, have been responded to by the Cameroonian government with excessive force, who claim that these separatists are terrorists and criminals. President Biya, the current ruling president of Cameroon, announced that the country is under attack and promised to “eradicate these criminals.”
According to the US, Cameroon has unlawfully detentioned and killed its citizens amid the rising separatists conflict. Despite the forewarning conversation between Cameroon and the US, the Central African nation has failed to address the US’ concerns regarding Cameroon’s human rights violations— leading to the termination of their involvement in the AGOA on January 1, 2020.
Economists believe this decision will affect the US more than originally thought. Cameroon is a key petroleum supplier for the US and with a reduction of the amount of petroleum the US imports, it is possible prices may surge due to a decreasing supply. Yet, as of now, this could be a step in the right direction for President Trump. In the past, the Trump Administration has failed to acknowledge human rights abuses—namely in countries with stronger economic ties to the US than Cameroon, however, this move to crackdown on countries abusing the rights of their own people may signal that the Administration is ready to crackdown on rampant human rights abusers and hold them accountable.