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Zambia: US Renews Agoa Status

Published date:
Wednesday, 14 January 2004

With one year left in President Bush's current term, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Charles R. Snyder said his team will be focusing on "finishing business," and maybe taking on one or two new priority projects.

At a December 9 meeting with journalists in his State Department office, Snyder cited three priorities that his team hopes to bring to completion this year: peace in Sudan; an expansion of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA); and an increase in the number of African countries that enjoy sovereign debt credit ratings.

"The big thing to finish, of course, is Sudan -- do a little more on the sovereign debt credit rating issue and see if we can't get an AGOA III through the Congress with a few more features," Snyder told reporters.

Additionally, Snyder suggested, "We probably have time to take on one or two new things," as time and resources permit. Those project priorities are yet to be determined, he said.

On Sudan, Snyder said, "When you look at the policy side of the house, the big one ... is Sudan. Could we get to where we want to go on Sudan with regards to terrorism and on changing the human rights [situation] in the South?" he rhetorically asked the journalists. "I think we are at the edge of getting a final deal there. ..."

"One of the keys to success" in Sudan, he explained, "is actually falling in behind the work already done by the Africans, reinvigorating it, and taking it further" to include new expanded measures.

Time and time again, he said, United States policy is most effective when it works to complement African efforts already underway across the continent.

Snyder, who assumed his present office on November 1, 2003, said that under the direction of his predecessor, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner, the State Department's Africa team also viewed trade and finance as a special priority.

"With Walter's background [as an investment banker], obviously, a lot of time was focused on the trade and investment side of the house," specifically the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and securing credit ratings for African countries, he said.

A major achievement during Kansteiner's tenure, Snyder recalled, was the passage of AGOA II, which has had a "real impact" in permitting increased imports of African goods into the United States.

"One of the things Walter wanted to do was have an impact on trade, and I think he did," Snyder said.

A third Kansteiner priority, according to Snyder, was the securing of an actual sovereign debt credit rating for as many African countries as possible. "Those of us who were not experts were a bit amused by this in the beginning," Snyder admitted, "but it has actually had an impact. Sixteen [African] countries now have sovereign debt credit ratings -- most of which we assisted in getting -- as opposed to four African countries when he [Kansteiner] assumed office.

"Why does this matter?" Snyder asked. "In many cases, some funds -- market funds and investment funds -- can't invest in countries without some basic credit rating ... so it actually has had an impact."

As an investment banker, Kansteiner brought unique skills to the State Department and thus spearheaded the effort to establish credit ratings for many African countries. Even though Kansteiner has returned to the private sector, Snyder said, "the program is still marching on. Several more [ratings] will be done over the course of this year," he pledged.

In closing, Snyder mentioned Sierra Leone as another area in which the United States "had impact by design" during Kansteiner's tenure.

"Finishing up the disaster [economic and political turmoil after the war] in Sierra Leone" was a major priority, he said. "We did a lot of work on that."

Additionally, he cited the Congo as another area of focus. "The Congo has actually been quite a success," he said. "It is still far from 100 percent. It is still far from economically recovered. But there is now a functional government there and we played our part in that. A lot of diplomatic heavy lifting and chipping in our fair share of aid, etc., at the right point" helped in that effort.

"It was a team effort -- clearly the Europeans did a lot of this. The Africans did most of this, but we fell in behind [them] where it counted. The Congo is kind of bubbling along" as a success story in its own right, he said.

Snyder assumed his new duties as acting assistant secretary of state for African affairs after serving as principal deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs, where he managed the State Department's Africa Bureau on a daily basis. In that position, Snyder also served as the central policy person for the Sudan peace initiative and helped direct U.S. policy for the southern Africa region.

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