TRALAC - Trade Law Centre

AGOA Proponents Urge Wider US Market Access

Thursday, 23 October 2003

Source: United States Department of State (Washington, DC)

Former Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Africa Rosa Whitaker joined with members of the United States Congress, the Bush administration and influential representatives of the private sector to call for further enhancements to the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) that was passed into law three years ago.

Speaking on behalf of a group known as "The AGOA 3 Action Committee," Whitaker told a packed congressional briefing October 21, "We all have the common belief that the legitimate aspirations of African people for growth and opportunity merit our sustained and untiring support."

While the historic African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) has achieved much, she said, there is an "urgent" need to strengthen the legislation beyond the improvements made in AGOA 2, enacted by the United States Congress last year.

Of particular concern, Whitaker told her audience, is the looming expiration of the World Trade Organization Agreement on Clothing and Textiles in 2008.

Whitaker went on to outline the AGOA 3 enhancements being sought by her group:

-- The extension of Africa's preferential U.S. market access under AGOA until 2015;

-- An end to uncertainties over what constitutes an AGOA-eligible garment with clear guidance for U.S. Customs;

-- The creation of a comprehensive plan to boost U.S.-African agricultural trade under AGOA;

-- The use of U.S. tax incentives to encourage American investment and job creation throughout Africa;

-- The removal of restrictions on the U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im Bank), the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and U.S. Trade Development Authority (TDA) in sectors such as agribusiness, electronics, textiles and apparel;

-- The enhancement of cooperation between American and African ports and airports to expand transportation and cargo links and;

-- The provision of technical assistance to enable African governments and their private sectors to more fully participate in AGOA.

Both Republican and Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives who were in attendance spoke in favor of AGOA 3.

Congressman Ed Royce, the Republican chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa in the U.S. House of Representatives, told everyone that the importance of AGOA 3 should not be underestimated. "We, as members of Congress, have had the chance to travel and see the job creation (as a result of AGOA) in countries like Madagascar, Namibia, Lesotho and South Africa," he said.

"In each of these cases I have seen the creation of tens of thousands of jobs in these countries -- just as a result of AGOA -- and hundreds of millions of dollars in direct investment there."

With AGOA 3 he said, "We have an opportunity to make more countries in Africa eligible for AGOA, to expand sectors of the African economy" and to promote reforms across the continent. "So we win all the way around," if AGOA is expanded and extended through AGOA 3, he said.

Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel, one of the original sponsors of the AGOA legislation and the ranking Democrat on the influential Ways and Means Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, said, "At this time of our international crises, it should feel good for everyone to want to be involved in how we can talk about peace, partnership, tranquility, trade and commerce, the elimination of poverty, disease (and the promotion of opportunity)" through AGOA 3.

"No matter what country we are from or what color we are," Rangel told his audience, "these are the things that truly give some degree of satisfaction to everybody when at the end of the day, you can say you have improved the quality of life for people.

"There is no question that, as Americans, the best thing that we can do for ourselves, is to help other people to become partners with us. It is in our self-interest. It is in the international community's best interest" to do that through the passage of AGOA 3.

Representing the private sector, Robert Lindsay, executive vice president of Coca-Cola Africa reminded everyone "AGOA is very, very important," because "trade is the only truly sustainable means of long-term partnership in any formal manner."

As Africa's largest private sector employer, Lindsay said Coca Cola has invested in excess of $500 million on the continent just in the past five years. "Any development that helps Africa is good for business and good for the people in Africa," he said.

While there is much news about Africa that is negative, he said, there are "many, many changes afoot" across the continent like the New Economic Partnership for African Development (NEPAD), in which African people have said, "enough is enough, we want to move forward with partners that want to work with us.

"In that partnership," he said, "AGOA is in a unique position to be a part of that."

In certain parts of Africa, he said, Africans fully realize that with regard to development "we have not got it right. We accept that. We know that and want to change it. But in changing it, we need partnership.

"That partnership," he stressed, "must be based on trade, because that is the only way of sustainability, to create jobs, to have mutually beneficial partnerships that means sustainable programs continue in the years ahead. That is why the (AGOA 3) proposal is so important." He enjoined everyone to "act with haste!"

Speaking for the African Diplomatic Corps, Roble Olhaye, Djibouti's Ambassador to the United States who is the dean of the African diplomatic corps, called AGOA 3 "timely, crucial and necessary."

AGOA 3 is another milestone that must be achieved, he said. "What you often hear about Africa is conflict, civil strife, ruin and fragmentation. What you don't hear about is the enormous task of nation-building and critical pervasive performance that is being carried out in most of the countries on a daily basis and against the background of declining aid, declining investment flows and the lack of market access for our products. ... Africa is moving forward."

Concluding, Olhaye reminded everyone that, "Africa is seeking economic justice ... economic empowerment ... economic development ... economic partnership. AGOA 3 is one of the key ways of achieving those goals."

Speaking for the Bush administration, the assistant United States Trade Representative for Africa, Florizelle B. Liser, told the group President Bush has long been a strong supporter of AGOA. She reminded everyone that President Bush recently spoke in favor of AGOA during Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki's state visit to the United States.

Added to that, she recalled, "It was in January at the AGOA Forum in Mauritius that President Bush announced that he would be ... asking Congress to work with him to extend AGOA beyond its present authorization of 2008. That was really the start for and the basis of the AGOA 3 initiative that we are now undertaking," she noted.

Helping Africa is a complex task, she explained. "We can't just give full access, but must also look at the constraints that Africans are faced with in taking full advantage of AGOA. We have to look at transport systems, supply of energy and water and (look at) building the capacity of the people to actually take advantage of AGOA by actually developing businesses, agribusiness ... and developing manufacturing businesses that indeed go beyond textiles and apparel. So we know that there is much more to be done."

Presently, Liser said the Bush administration is taking everyone's ideas and suggestions on AGOA, and folding them into an administration proposal -- the final details of which are now being worked out. "As AGOA 3 moves forward in the Congress," Liser pledged, "we in the administration want to work closely with you and hope you will work closely with us."

The AGOA 3 Action Committee comprises three sectoral working groups: agriculture, export credit agencies and textiles and apparel. Four functional working groups focus on advocacy and outreach, the executive branch, Congress, the media and African countries.

The Committee is co-chaired by Rosa Whitaker, former Congressman cabinet secretary and presidential candidate Jack Kemp, and Carl Ware, vice president for Africa of the Coca Cola Company.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)