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Africa: Senator Coons talks about the importance of open markets between US and Africa

Africa: Senator Coons talks about the importance of open markets between US and Africa
Sen. Chris Coons
Published date:
Thursday, 26 July 2012

US Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, spoke on the Senate floor Thursday afternoon urging his colleagues to support the reauthorization of legislation that allows for duty-free access to the U.S. market for apparel that is produced in sub-Saharan African countries using fabric that was produced elsewhere. The African Growth and Opportunity Act's Third Party Fabric Provision was introduced for reauthorization on June 21, 2012, by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R- Utah). It was passed by the Finance Committee last week and awaits consideration by the full Senate. Senator Coons is an original cosponsor of the bill.

Chart from U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on trade with Africa.

I appreciate the opportunity to briefly contribute what I can to this debate. One of the great honors, as you know, Mr. President, of being a freshman is the opportunity to preside. I had the opportunity to preside when the Republican leader came to the floor and spoke to Burma sanctions. I just wanted to say to the Republican leader that, because of that speech, I familiarized myself with the issue of Burma sanctions that he spoke to earlier.

I do think it's important that we move to it. I do think it's important to move forward on it, but the Republican leader made a comment earlier that he doesn't much understand the other part of the bill, which is AGOA, the African Growth and Opportunity Act. I choose to stand briefly and speak to that, if I might, because I am the chair of the African Affairs Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator Isakson and I joined with Congresswoman Bass and Congresswoman Smith in twice receiving dozens of ambassadors from across the continent three months ago and nine months ago as they expressed their grave concern about the thousands of mostly women all across the continent who are losing their jobs as we delay.

The AGOA reauthorization expires in September, and I am grateful to Chairman Baucus for his vigorous pursuit of renewal in a timely fashion.

AGOA needs to be renewed promptly. Not in September. In part I believe, of why the Administration has insisted on holding together Burma sanctions and this AGOA reauthorization is because of the urgency of getting AGOA reauthorized. It dates back to the Clinton Administration.

It was first signed into law a dozen years ago. It has, I think, real importance for our view in Africa for how the United States is viewed in Africa, for our bilateral relation with more than a dozen countries. I would be happy to answer questions about it.

But we have three different issues here. The concerns that the senator from Oklahoma has raised about the pay-for and I respect his concerns about budget and budgetary discipline in dealing with our deficit. The concerns the Republican leader has raised about Burma and about sanctions and about our ongoing role as a global leader in pressing for the liberation of people and process in Burma and the concerns that I and many other senators have shared about timely reauthorization of the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

Unfortunately, the three of them intersect in a way that today is preventing us from moving forward. It is my hope that the Republican leader, the chairman of the Finance Committee, the senator from Oklahoma and I could sit down and craft some responsible compromise that allows this to move forward, because if my understanding is correct, it is the senator from Oklahoma's concerns that are preventing us from moving forward at this point and it is the Administration's concerns that are preventing breaking apart the Burma sanctions and AGOA sanctions and there is a third provision relating to CAFTA, if I'm not mistaken. If we could but work together in a way that finds a responsible path forward, it is still I think possible. There is bipartisan support in the House for the passage of this package.

In fact, I believe they were prepared to pass it by unanimous consent earlier this week and only hesitated to proceed because they heard there was a hold here in the Senate. I'd like to work together in a way that can demonstrate to the people of Burma, to the people of Africa, to the people around the world that this greatest deliberative body on earth can still work out issues of this scale in a timely fashion, and so I offer my willingness to work together to find a path forward either tonight or in the week ahead.

Thank you. I yield the floor.

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