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Washington is set to toughen sanctions against the Ethiopian government and other warring parties in the Horn of Africa country, a sign of the Biden administration’s growing frustration at the lack of efforts to end the this devastating 10-month conflict.
US President Joe Biden on Friday signed an executive order establishing “a new sanctions regime that will allow us to target those responsible or complicit in the prolongation of the conflict in Ethiopia, the obstruction of humanitarian access or the prevention of a ceasefire “.
Under the latest measures, the United States reserves the right to impose sanctions on “those of the Ethiopian government, the government of Eritrea, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray and the Amhara regional government, among others. , who continue to continue the conflict over negotiations to the detriment of the Ethiopian people, ”Biden said in a statement.
Thousands of people have reportedly been killed and hundreds of thousands have fled their homes in the last decade. civil war erupted in November.
Abiy Ahmed, the Ethiopian Prime Minister, sent troops to quell unrest in Tigray after what he called an attack on Ethiopian forces by troops loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, or TPLF.
Abiy blasted the United States on Friday for what he called “undue pressure” and “double standards.”
In May, the United States put visa restrictions and economic sanctions on some officials from Eritrea and Ethiopia. The latter has been both a strategic ally of the United States in the conflict-prone Horn of Africa and a close partner of China.
The new measures would provide wide latitude to impose sanctions on individuals and entities linked to the conflict, said a person close to the U.S. administration and another person in Washington briefed on the matter.
This could serve as a prelude to the withdrawal of Ethiopia, a country of 114 million people, from a list of countries eligible for duty-free access to the US market under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), the people said.
Ethiopia has used Agoa, which gives most African states duty-free access to certain products in the US market, as a catalyst for its manufacturing strategy. He exported $ 245 million in merchandise in the United States under Agoa last year, more than 40 percent of its total exports there.
At the end of last month, United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai had a virtual meeting with Mamo Mihretu, Abiy’s Trade and Economic Advisor, in which she spoke of “the ongoing violations of human rights. internationally recognized man in the context of the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis, ”USTR said. in a report. If not resolved, this could affect Ethiopia’s eligibility for Agoa, he said.
A final decision is expected to be made in November.
Ethiopia’s withdrawal from Agoa would harm Ethiopia’s industrial strategy, especially in textiles and leather goods, and potentially harm some Western brands, such as Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, which produce in Ethiopia.
Mamo told the Financial Times that access to the US market under Agoa has enabled Ethiopia to attract foreign investment in a manufacturing sector that currently employs tens of thousands of people, more than 80 percent of whom are young women. .
“Ethiopia’s exclusion from Agoa will move these women away from the dignity of work towards the unworthiness of the begging bowl. If Ethiopia has ever deserved the benefits of Agoa, there has been no better time than today, nor a more dignified administration than this, ”he added.
Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State, said on Friday that the United States would delay sanctions if the two sides entered into ceasefire negotiations.
Since July, the war has spread from Tigray to two other Ethiopian regions, Amhara and Afar, displacing hundreds of thousands of people, local authorities said.
Last month, USAID Chief Samantha Power said 900,000 people were living in near famine conditions in Tigray and more than 5 million people were in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. The Ethiopian government has repeatedly denied the blocking of food aid in the region and accused Tigrayan forces of disrupting aid supplies.