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Market Access Moves Africans Out of Poverty, Says Mauritian Prime Minister

Published date:
Monday, 13 January 2003

Port Louis, Mauritius -- Access to markets is vital if Africa is to move out of the cycle of poverty and underdevelopment, Mauritian Prime Minister Anerood Jugnauth said January 13 in opening the private sector session of the second annual U.S. Sub-Saharan Africa Trade and Economic Cooperation Forum.

Jugnauth spoke to a business audience at the Freeport Exhibition Center located in the port area of Mer Rouge just outside the capital. He said, "I am confident that now that the U.S. has shown its commitment to the socio-economic success of the continent, the contours of a road map for a new era of prosperity can be charted."

The Prime Minister made his comments at the opening of the business portion of this year's AGOA forum, the annual conference established by the U.S. African Growth and Opportunity Act, passed in May 2000. The act was designed to spur African exports by offering duty-free and quota-free entry to products, like textiles, into the U.S. market. Separate government and civil society sessions round out the January 13 to 17 forum, the first held in Africa. The first AGOA forum was held in Washington in October 2001.

Business people representing 1,000 firms, including 200 from the United States, strolled among the 150 booths in the exhibit area, some making deals, before settling down to hear the prime minister's comments. He was joined on the official dais by the Mauritian deputy prime minister and minister of finance, the lord mayor of Port Louis, and the U.S. ambassador.

Dispelling the idea that Mauritius had more in common with Asia than Africa because of its mixed racial and ethnic makeup as well as its close cultural and economic ties to India, Jugnauth said "While Mauritius is an island off the mainland of Africa, its destiny has always been closely interlinked with that of the continent."

Jugnauth acknowledged the personal efforts of President Bush in furthering closer U.S.-African trade ties, saying, "In this context, we fully appreciate the declared policy of the U.S., in particular that of President George W. Bush and his willingness to put an end to the Afro-pessimism syndrome which has crippled Africa for too long."

Speaking at the first AGOA Forum in 2001, President Bush said "We have a unique opportunity to build ties of trade and trust that will improve the lives on both our continents. And we will seize this opportunity." He added, "Our times present many challenges. Yet, I'm optimistic about our shared future. I know we can build a world that grows in prosperity and trades in freedom." Bush signed an amendment to AGOA in August 2002 that further expands the range of favorable trade benefits offered by the trade pact.

With 38 African countries now certified eligible to receive AGOA's favorable trade benefits, Jugnauth wished success to the second annual forum and AGOA, "which has kindled so many hopes among our people and raised high expectations among different stakeholders of our continent" and which "will pave the way for a long and fruitful U.S.-Africa partnership."

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Paul Berenger seconded Jugnauth's remarks, adding, "At the beginning of the new millennium, Africa offers a window of opportunities -- they are there for the taking. There are enormous growth reserves to be exploited. Sub-Saharan Africa comprises 48 countries, of which 38 have satisfied the requirements of AGOA and are eligible for its benefits. Less than one-third of its arable land is put to productive use. A significant proportion of its labor force is idle. Putting these resources to work would yield great economic payoffs."

AGOA, he added, "has a critical role to play in stimulating African initiatives from both public and private sectors. The U.S. represents a vast market for products of sub-Saharan Africa. The region accounts for less than two percent of U.S. merchandise imports, which indicate huge potential for trade growth. AGOA is already helping many countries to expand and diversify their exports and build a manufacturing base to support long-term economic growth."

"Africa holds its future in its own hands," Berenger said, "That future can certainly be brighter still if our business leaders work together."

From the business side, Maurice Vigier de Latour, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Mauritius and chairman of the coordinating committee for the private sector session of the AGOA Forum, told the gathering, "Ten years ago African-American relations were mostly in terms of aid and the exploitation of natural resources. Today, your presence here shows that the African private sector is alive and growing. Your presence in the trade exhibition indicates that the African manufacturing and service industries are growing. And the presence of so many Americans, both from the public and private sectors, reveals there has been a major shift in U.S.-African relations, both economically and politically."

De Latour said he believed the African private sector "can and will play a formidable role in creating sustainable economic development throughout our continent."

Stephen Hayes, president of the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA), whose 160 U.S. corporate clients, he said, represent about 80 percent of all private U.S. investment on the continent, termed the exhibit "an extraordinary show that is just the beginning of what could be. AGOA and what we see here represents the dreams and hopes of mankind. We look to that future ... and dream of what could be, and that is really the beauty of tonight."

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