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US Lawmaker calls for an AGOA III at Mauritius Forum

Published date:
Friday, 17 January 2003

Mauritius - U.S. Representative Ed Royce reinforced his reputation as a staunch proponent of private-sector-driven development for Africa at the second U.S. Sub-Saharan Africa Trade and Economic Cooperation [AGOA] Forum, calling for an expansion of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and extension beyond its 2008 expiration date.

Royce told the first-ever grouping of businessmen attending an AGOA Forum, "We can all be pleased at the results of AGOA thus far. But "we need to extend and broaden" the legislation and "we need to bring a passion into this argument."

He spoke January 15 to businessmen gathered to hear him and other trade experts discuss the topic "Investments Under Trade Provisions in Current and Future AGOA's and Other Trade Schemes" at the private sector portion of the AGOA Forum.

[Later that evening President Bush announced via a videotaped presentation to the 150 AGOA ministers and officials attending a U.S. Embassy reception that he planned to ask Congress to extend the law that provides favorable trade benefits to 38 sub-Saharan African nations that pursue open-market reforms.]

The AGOA trade bill, which was originally signed into law May 2000, gives African products, such as textiles and apparel, duty-free and quota-free entry into the U.S. market. President Bush signed an amendment to the Act in August 2002 that expanded the favorable trade provisions.

Royce, a California Republican, was part of a Congressional Delegation (Codel) led by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas that included Representative Jim McDermott, Democrat from Washington State, who is known as the "Father of AGOA."

Royce said, "There is interest in Congress on moving ahead with additional legislation with AGOA III. And I believe our delegation here is a reflection of that engagement. In some ways, I believe the private sector this time is ahead of Congress.

"While we can say that AGOA originally came out of Congress and gained private sector support, the thinking on AGOA II was developed in the private sector. There is nothing wrong with that. I just mention it as a fact that needs to be accounted for by all of us who would like to see greater U.S. commercial engagement on the continent," he added.

Royce pledged to his African and American business audience, "I will be working with my colleagues to see that they fully understand the importance of commercially engaging with Africa and I would ask that you do the same."

The lawmaker also pointed out that Africans had an important role to play in the AGOA process. "In terms of African responsibility, AGOA is a preferential [trade] program. We grant greater market access without assurances of reciprocal treatment. What we do ask is that African countries, to the best of their abilities, follow general principles, primarily, adherence to market principles including the rule of law."

He added, "That serves the interests of Africans and Americans alike. If we are going to ask the private sector to build a certain passion for engagement in Africa and for Congress to further liberalize trade, then at the same time we need to also discuss some of the impediments [to that trade] like corruption" and other law enforcement issues.

Royce, who has developed the reputation as a true friend of Africa because he has always spoken forthrightly of the continent's need for reform in order to attract business, said, "Actually, this prodding [for reforms] or criteria for AGOA stands to benefit Africa as much, if not more, than market access. Developing these policies is in the hands of Africans and they pay a terrible price if they do not go forward with...economic reform, rule of law and human rights."

Taking advantage of AGOA is also dependent on an absence of conflict, Royce stressed. He mentioned Madagascar, where his Codel also made a stop. "Its apparel exports were down significantly in 2002 because of its civil strife. Some factories that were going full speed are still not operating although they are being brought on line."

With AGOA, Royce said, "We can open the door and we can help build markets and the rule of law in African nations. But ultimately the responsibility [for harnessing the benefits of globalization] lies with the Africans. It is their continent."

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