This story captures the main messages of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: the need to improve and expand intra-regional trade; the need to improve the climate for doing business in Africa (which includes strengthening governance and the rule of law); the desirability of more bilateral trade agreements with African countries, as well as a focus on improving opportunities for Africans to export agricultural products.
AGOA is the African Growth and Opportunity Act. It was passed under the Clinton Administration and designed to create positive incentives for Africans to export more to the US. To date, the Act has been a disappointment. Although African exports to the US have tripled, just over 90% AGOA imports are oil and petroleum products. The idea was that expanded trade would help develop a more vibrant and competitive private sector in Africa. But because African governments ultimately control sub-surface minerals such as oil, and because oil production often generates substantial conflict (as in Nigeria), the boost in African exports helps oil-producing governments most -- not local entrepreneurs -- and helping these governments is, by no means, the same thing as helping citizens on the ground.
How might this problem be addressed? As this story from the Kenyan paper Business Daily makes clear, African countries and their industries need to become more competitive. But, in addition, the US could make it easier and less costly for Africans to export agricultural products that compete with protected US-produced commodities such as sugar. Or, allow more value-added/processed ag products into the US duty free. Currently, US peanut growers, sugar farmers, dairy and beef farmers face less competition than they otherwise would if AGOA's duty-free provisions were extended to these products; same with canned fruits or cocoa that has been processed with sugar.
Secretary of State Clinton is absolutely correct that more expansive intra-regional trade is essential for economic growth in Africa. But there's still also a good deal the US government can do to make it easier for Africa's farmers to compete in our markets.