The United States is not doing enough to implement the human rights criteria of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), Human Rights Watch said today.

The first U.S.-Africa Trade and Economic Cooperation Forum, to be held in Washington on October 29-30, is required by the AGOA, which Congress passed in 2000.

In letters addressed to Secretary of State Colin Powell and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, Human Rights Watch said the U.S. government had not used human rights criteria contained in the legislation to improve human rights performance in the beneficiary countries.

“The Congress created a useful tool for promoting human rights in Africa, but the U.S. government isn’t using it,” said Janet Fleischman, Washington Director for the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch does not take a position on whether or not particular states should be eligible for benefits under the AGOA law. But the legislation includes labor rights and human rights criteria, and requires that beneficiary countries not “engage in gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”

Human Rights Watch cited several cases where the U.S. State Department itself has documented abusive practices by recipient countries, but the U.S. government has not made clear how those findings will affect trade relationships with those countries, as the AGOA requires.