Uganda criticises US over removal from Agoa

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in Pretoria on February 28, 2023.

Photo credit: AFP

Uganda on Wednesday blasted a US decision to remove it from a major trade pact over human rights violations, warning the move would harm farmers and small businesses in the impoverished East African country.

The United States said this week it was cutting Uganda as well as the Central African Republic (CAR), Gabon and Niger from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) from January 2024.

The programme offers duty-free access into the world's largest economy for sub-Saharan African countries that meet democratic criteria, which are assessed on a yearly basis.

But US President Joe Biden said in a letter to Congress that the governments of the CAR and Uganda had both "engaged in gross violations of internationally recognised human rights".

Uganda has faced criticism from rights groups, the United Nations and Western powers over a harsh anti-gay law adopted in May.

"It seems they have decided Ugandans should be punished" over the controversial legislation, Odrek Rwabwogo, a senior aide to President Yoweri Museveni, said in a statement.

He said the government was "disappointed by the unfortunate decision" but remained open to discussing the issue with the United States.

"While Ugandan trade through Agoa was insubstantial, growth of our exports to the US and other partners was an important pillar of our economic strategy going forward," he added. 

"Ugandan farmers and small business owners will suffer," said Rwabwogo, the head of a presidential advisory committee on exports and industrial development.

Biden had called for the immediate repeal of the anti-gay legislation after it was passed, and threatened to cut aid and investment in Uganda.

The law adopted in May contains provisions making "aggravated homosexuality" a capital offence and imposes penalties for consensual same-sex relations of up to life in prison.

The World Bank announced in August it was suspending new loans to Uganda, and last month the US State Department warned about the risk of doing business there.