TRALAC - Trade Law Centre

AGOA Officials to Brief Ugandan Parliament

Friday, 23 January 2004

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

Combining education with a willingness to work hard, the new Assistant U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) for Africa has made the American dream of upward mobility come true for herself. Now Florizelle Liser is pouring her energies into helping Africans achieve individual and national prosperity through increased exports to the U.S. market, touting self-reliance, discipline and sheer hard work.

Speaking in her office next to the White House, Liser told the Washington File January 12 that her family immigrated to New York City from Panama. "I was raised in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Queens by people who instilled in me the idea that you worked hard to bring yourself up in the world. You got help, of course, but ultimately the responsibility for what you did with your life was up to you," she said.

Liser is a graduate of Dickinson College and also holds an M.A. in economics from Johns Hopkins University. Before being named to her position last year by President Bush, she served as assistant USTR for industry, market access and telecommunications. In that role she helped establish a Women's Trade and Economic Development Center in Sibasa, Northern Province, South Africa.

In her new job at USTR, Liser says, she is determined to promote the same type of grassroots growth and self-reliance that she used to build her own career, and that now underpin the Bush administration's policy toward Africa, that is, the use of commerce and trade as the main engines for growth on a continent that threatens to be marginalized by globalization -- the free flow of goods, services, information and people.

"This doesn't mean stopping all development assistance," Liser hastened to add, but "Africans themselves have increasingly come to see that trade is critical to development, and so I am focusing on programs like AGOA [African Growth and Opportunity Act]" in order to capture that momentum. Congress passed AGOA, the first ever-trade pact with Africa, in May 2000. Its favorable trade benefits for African nations reforming their economies along free market lines have been expanded since then, most recently by President Bush, who signed an AGOA II bill into law last year.

Now, after four years in operation, Liser said, "I think AGOA has been quite successful on a number of levels in expanding African exports to the U.S. In textiles and apparel we have seen an increase in exports from African countries of about 42 percent." Transportation items, like automotive products from South Africa, increased by 24 percent and agricultural products have increased by about 17 percent. At the same time, "our exports to [Africa] in the first 10 months of 2003 increased by about 9 percent, which is also good for us."

However, "we have a lot more to do to help get more countries eligible," the official added. "Right now, South Africa is the main country taking advantage of AGOA over a wide range of products." Currently, more than 35 sub-Saharan African nations are eligible for AGOA benefits. President Bush recently signed a proclamation that added Angola to the list while dropping the Central African Republic and Eritrea because of their failure to make needed political and human rights reforms.

Liser said she would also like to see greater diversification of products for export among the AGOA-eligible nations. "For example, Nigeria is one of the biggest beneficiaries of AGOA" as the result of lowered duties on its petroleum exports, "but I told them: 'You are one of the largest economies in Africa and should be doing a lot more under AGOA that is non-petroleum.'"

Liser, who plans to visit Nigeria in February, said one area the country could focus on is "not apparel but textiles. Nigeria has a [manufacturing] base that is already there. There aren't a lot of countries that can supply the textiles the rest of the continent needs for their apparel industries. Right now a lot of the fabric they are using is coming from Asia. I think Nigeria could replace that need." Also, because of the petroleum industry, "Nigeria could move into synthetics, which is an integral part of the clothing sector these days."

In addition to expanding market access in the United States, Liser said, another priority for her is to get the Africans to reduce "supply-side constraints" that hinder the expansion of their export sectors. According to Liser, this means greater regional integration through customs unions that break down trade barriers and fewer government regulations that act as a disincentive to foreign and domestic investment -- "and we're encouraging them to do that."

Liser summed up saying; "I think regional integration, product diversification and development of vertically integrated industries taking advantage of economies of scale across borders are things we can do. And we can use the strength of some of the key countries we've talked about to help do that."

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