The four countries that face termination from the African Growth and Opportunity Act, or AGOA, at the start of 2024 are the Central African Republic, Niger, Gabon and Uganda.
AGOA — which provides qualifying sub-Saharan African countries duty-free access to U.S. markets — is due to expire in September 2025. Countries that benefit from the program and the African Union called for an early 10-year extension at the annual AGOA forum held in Johannesburg last week.
Eligibility for the program is determined by countries' ability to "establish or make continual progress toward establishing a market-based economy, the rule of law, political pluralism and the right to due process," while fighting poverty and corruption and defending human rights.
The countries also must remove barriers to U.S. trade and investments.
Among the objections against the Central African Republic, CAR, Biden cited "gross violations of internationally recognized human rights" and failure to protect "worker rights, the rule of law and political pluralism."
Although specific reasons were not given for the four expulsions, the U.S. has criticized CAR for alleged government-sanctioned rights abuses, as well as the Russian Wagner mercenary group's activities in the country.
Niger and Gabon were expelled for failing to make "continual progress toward establishing, the protection of political pluralism and the rule of law."
Niger’s military deposed the democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum in July. Bazoum remains detained and the ruling junta named a new leader shortly after his ouster. The U.S. officially recognized the ouster as a coup last month.
Similarly, the U.S. has officially called the August ouster of Gabon’s President Ali Bongo, who also was replaced by a military leader, a coup.
Uganda's removal from AGOA was tied to "gross violations of internationally recognized human rights."
In May, Uganda passed one of the world’s harshest anti-homosexuality laws, which imposes the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality." The U.S., other Western nations and international rights organizations were swift to condemn the legislation.
Early this week, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni took to X, formerly known as Twitter, to respond to the U.S. action, saying "the Western World overestimate themselves and underestimate the freedom fighters of Africa."
"I need to advise you not to be over-concerned by the recent actions by the American Government in discouraging their companies from investing in Uganda and on removing Uganda from the AGOA list," he said.
In 2022, African nations exported about $10 billion in goods to the U.S., so many African countries stand to benefit from inclusion in the program.
Nigeria tops the list at $3.4 billion in energy exports in 2022, followed by South Africa, Kenya and Madagascar, which exported non-energy products, such as motor vehicles, apparel and agricultural products.
Some analysts have said that being dropped out of AGOA may not have a dramatic impact for CAR, Niger, Gabon and Uganda, as they export significantly less to the U.S. than the top AGOA beneficiaries.
"For these countries, much more importantly is the signal it sends that you’ve been removed from a system of trade preferences, you no longer have the ... seal of approval," said J. Peter Pham, former U.S. special envoy for the Sahel.
The Biden administration has previously expelled other African nations — including Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Guinea and Mali — for failing to meet the program's criteria.
Currently, over 30 African countries are eligible as AGOA beneficiaries.
As competition for influence on the continent heats up, Russia and China are seen to attach fewer strings to their aid and investments in Africa than the U.S. does.
Biden and U.S. lawmakers have voiced support for AGOA's renewal, although Biden has called for reforms to the pact before its extension.
VOA's Carol Van Dam contributed to this report.