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Seeing improvement, US restores DR Congo trade preferences

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Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi, seen here in November 2019, has encouraged the United States with his efforts against corruption./AFP
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Dec 23, 2020 - 10:24 AM

WASHINGTON — The United States on Tuesday restored the Democratic Republic of Congo’s favored trading status, pointing to improvements one decade after it was suspended over human rights concerns.

President Donald Trump said in a proclamation he was restoring the vast, impoverished nation’s ability to send exports duty-free “based on actions that the government of the DRC has taken.”

Under the 2000 African Growth and Opportunity Act, which expires in 2025, sub-Saharan nations can export most goods without tariffs to the United States if they meet benchmarks on ensuring the rule of law, political pluralism, labor rights and a market economy.

Former president Barack Obama removed DR Congo in December 2010, with US officials pointing to human rights abuses by security forces, including widespread use of rape as a weapon of war.

But US officials have voiced optimism on the trajectory under President Felix Tshisekedi, who took office in January 2019 in the former Belgian colony’s first peaceful transition of power and vowed to root out notorious levels of corruption.

In a scene once unthinkable against a political player, a former top aide to both Tshisekedi and his predecessor Joseph Kabila was in June sentenced to 20 years in prison for diverting more than $50 million of public funds.

Tshisekedi recently said he was scrapping an uneasy coalition with supporters of Kabila, who had ruled the nation for nearly two decades, to free himself to press reforms.

The move triggered clashes inside parliament, with Kabila’s supporters accusing the president of a power grab.

Since taking office, Tshisekedi has pitched for the United States to become more involved in his country, including through investment in its plentiful natural resources.

In a petition last year to restore the US trading status, the DR Congo’s embassy said that Tshisekedi was demonstrating “determined leadership for good governance” and opening “a new chapter for the Congolese nation.”

Tshisekedi has also pleased the Trump administration by expanding ties with Israel, including pledging to send an ambassador to Tel Aviv after two decades and to open an economic interests section in Jerusalem.

Trump broke with international consensus by moving the US embassy to the contested holy city and has offered incentives to nations to recognize Israel.

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