Sign up for myFT Daily Digest to be the first to know about the news from Ethiopia.
Washington is ready to toughen sanctions against the Ethiopian government and other warring parties in the Horn of Africa country in a sign of the Biden administration’s growing frustration at the lack of efforts to end the devastating 10-month conflict.
US President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Friday, establishing “a new sanctions regime that will allow us to target those responsible or complicit in prolonging the conflict in Ethiopia, obstructing humanitarian access or preventing a ceasefire.”
Under the latest measures, the United States reserves the right to impose sanctions on “those in the Government of Ethiopia, the Government of Eritrea, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, and the Amhara regional government, among others, who continue to pursue the conflict. on negotiations to the detriment of the Ethiopian people, “Biden said in a statement. Tighter sanctions could lead to Ethiopia losing duty-free access to the United States, people informed of the sanctions warn.
Thousands of people are believed to have died and hundreds of thousands have fled their homes since civil war broke out in November. Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s prime minister, sent troops to quell unrest in Tigray after what he said was an attack on Ethiopian forces by troops loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, or TPLF.
In May, the United States imposed visa restrictions and economic sanctions on some officials from Eritrea and Ethiopia. The latter has been 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 broad freedom to impose sanctions on people and entities related to the conflict, said a person close to the US administration and another person in Washington reported on the measures.
This could act as a prelude to removing Ethiopia, a country of 114 million people, from a list of nations eligible for tariff-free access to the US market under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), they said. people.
Ethiopia has used Agoa, which gives most African states duty-free access to some products in the US market, as a catalyst for its manufacturing strategy.
At the end of last month, the United States Trade Representative, Katherine Tai, had a virtual meeting with Mamo Mihretu, a business and economic adviser to Abiy, during which she raised “the continuing violations of internationally recognized human rights in the midst of the conflict. and the ongoing humanitarian crisis, “the USTR said. in a sentence. If not addressed, this could affect Ethiopia’s eligibility for Agoa, he said. A final decision is expected to be made in November.
Ethiopia’s removal from Agoa would hurt Ethiopia’s industrial strategy, particularly in textiles and leather goods, as well as potentially hurt some Western brands, such as Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, which source from production in Ethiopia.
Since July, after forces loyal to the TPLF recaptured Tigrayan’s capital Mekelle, 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 in famine in Tigray and more than 5 million were in desperate need of humanitarian aid.
The Ethiopian government has repeatedly denied blocking food aid to the region and has blamed Tigrayan forces for disrupting aid supplies.
Biden also said his government supported the mediation efforts of the African Union, led by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo.
On Monday, Michelle Bachelet, the UN human rights chief, blamed parties on all sides of the conflict for mass arrests, killings, systematic looting and sexual violence in Tigray.
Billene Seyoum, a spokesperson for Abiy, said Thursday night: “We condemn in the strongest terms all atrocities committed by the TPLF and others,” adding that “we are committed to ending this violence.”