New lobby campaign targets Ethiopia trade benefits

New lobby campaign targets Ethiopia trade benefits

By Julian Pecquet on July 26, 2021

Source: Foreign Lobby

Ethiopia: A Washington lobbyist who previously represented Tigrayan-American activists is asking the US goverment to suspend trade preferences for Ethiopia in a bid to end the fighting in the northern region. Karl Von Batten has registered his firm Von Batten-Montague-York under the domestic Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) for work conducted on its own behalf. The registration was effective June 21. Von Batten previously represented the Tigray Center for Information and Communication, a recently formed advocacy group in Alexandria, Virginia, from March 10 to May 26. The firm reported $40,000 in payments from the group and notably lobbied for passage of the Senate resolution calling for the withdrawal of Eritrean troops from Ethiopia.

Von Batten’s firm is now lobbying the US government to suspend Ethiopia’s participation in “key US preferred trade agreements,” particularly the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). The law, enacted in 2000, gives eligible countries preferential trade access to the American market and is a key element of US policy toward sub-Saharan Africa.

According to the new lobbying registration, the goal of the new lobbying push is to “compel the Ethiopian government to”:

  • “Remove all Ethiopian-allied forces and militia from the Tigray region of Ethiopia”;
  • “Allow for unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid to civilians in Tigray”;
  • “Stop the human rights violations and atrocities committed by Ethiopian and Ethiopian-allies forces and militia against civilians in Tigray”; and
  • “Allow for an independent investigation into the reported human rights violations and atrocities committed against civilians in Tigray.”

The Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) singled out Ethiopia’s success under the program in its biennial report to Congress last year. “As one example of what an individual country can do to leverage its AGOA benefits over a five-year time horizon,” then-US trade representative Robert Lighthizer wrote, “Ethiopia’s annual apparel exports under AGOA increased dramatically from $20.3 million in 2015 to $209.6 million in 2019.” Other African nations have previously been suspended from the AGOA program for perceived democratic backsliding and human rights violations, including Burundi in 2016 and Cameroon and Mauritania in 2019.

Von Batten’s registration comes amid intensifying lobbying by Ethiopian interests, with rival diaspora groups weighing on the conflict while the government in Addis Ababa has hired its own influence firm.

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