Democratic Republic of Congo has rejoined a trade partnership giving it duty-free access to U.S. markets, the two sides said on Wednesday, a sign of warming diplomatic ties since Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi came to power last year.The U.S. suspended Congo from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) a decade ago because of allegedhuman rights violations under former president Joseph Kabila.Tshisekedi’s office welcomed a “great economic advance”, saying AGOA would bring exemptions from customs taxes, removal of barriers to American investment in Congo and direct financing of trade between the two states.AGOA has provided African countries with duty-free access to the U.S. market for over 1,800 products for 20 years.Congo’s main exports, copper and cobalt, are included in the agreement but are already tariff-free under the United States’ Generalized System of Preferences trade program.Theaccord cements a detente between the two nations following years of strained relations under Kabila. They resumed military cooperation in late October.“It is recognition of President Tshisekedi’s commitment to bringing about the change the Congolese people desire and deserve,” Mike Hammer, the U.S. ambassadorto Congo, said in a statement.The announcement comes as Tshisekedi moves to assert his independence from Kabila by ending an awkward governing coalition forced by Kabila’s control of majorities inparliament.“It’s a way to encourage the Congolese business elite to back Tshisekedi,by highlighting the potential gains of backing the incumbent,” said Alexandre Raymakers, an analyst at risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft.
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