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US Officials Underline Pres. Bush's Strong Commitment to Africa

Published date:
Tuesday, 09 December 2003

There is an undercurrent of growing concern among supporters of the African Growth and Opportunities Act (Agoa) about the legislation's future. As key Agoa meetings get underway in Washington, D.C., advocates of the Act - which gives African countries privileged access to U.S. markets - claim there is only weak support in the Bush Administration for extending the measure beyond its present expiration of 2008.

On November 25, Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, offered a bill (S. 1900) to extend the Act until 2015. A similar bill, HR 3572, was introduced in the House of Representatives on November 21 by a bipartisan group that includes Jim McDermott (D-WA), Edward Royce (R-CA), Charles Rangel (D-NY) and William Jefferson (D-LA),). The proposed bills, known as 'Agoa 3', would also extend for four years the right of the poorest AGOA-eligible countries to use third-country fabric for duty-free apparel exports to the U.S.

One Washington veteran close to efforts to extend the act, told AllAfrica that "there has been virtually no interagency action" and virtually the same level of inaction from the White House Office of Legislative Affairs - "not one call to Congress."

"Not true," said Florizelle B. Liser, Assistant United States Trade Representative for Africa, as she moved briskly through hallway crowds, Monday, at the Corporate Council on Africa-sponsored private sector session of the 2003 Agoa Forum in Washington. "We are holding meetings all over the place, but we don't yet have all of our positions worked out." The Administration, she said, "is committed, at the highest level" to Agoa.

An "Agoa Forum" - mandated by the Agoa legislation originally passed in 2000 - got underway in Washington, Monday, with separate civil society and private sector venues. Meetings with State Department and other officials begin Tuesday. Speaking by videotape to the Agoa Forum in Mauritius last January, President Bush declared his intention to ask Congress to extend Agoa past 2008. Sources say he will address the Forum in Washington this week.

Speculation that Agoa might be in trouble has been circulating since the collapse of the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in September in Cancun, Mexico, where a bloc of African nations joined with some middle-level developing nations like Brazil in opposition to new global trade rules.

"The key division at Cancun was between the can-do and the won't-do," United States Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick wrote irritably in London's Financial Times on September 22. At Cancun, wrote Zoellick, the WTO had been transformed into "a forum for the politics of protest." The U.S., he said, "will move toward trade with can-do countries."

Similar anger has been expressed on Capitol Hill, making progress on Agoa 3 slower and more difficult than expected before the breakdown of the Cancun trade talks. "Some have suggested that the U.S. should demonstrate to Africa that there are costs associated with not supporting the United States at the WTO, noting that AGOA is a trade preference program that is temporary and can be eliminated at any time," Rep. McDermott observed during a speech Monday at the private sector forum.

But in the post-September 11 world, development has become a national security issue; on that basis alone, most believe that in the end, there will be an extension. Participants at this week's Agoa Forums aim to make that more likely by emphasizing the successes of Agoa.

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