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Remarks: AGOA’s future – Dialogue with members of Congress

Remarks: AGOA’s future – Dialogue with members of Congress
Rep. Karen Bass, speaking at the AGOA Forum 2013
Published date:
Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Your excellences, distinguished and honored guests, good morning. It is wonderful to be with you today in Addis Ababa, at the headquarters of the African Union, and most importantly, at the 2013 AGOA Forum.

Before I begin, I want to take a moment to acknowledge and thank Florie Liser for her leadership and stellar work she has done on AGOA for many years now. I for one am grateful for the assistance she has provided my office, and the tireless work she has done to expand trade and investment opportunities for African nations. And let me also thank my dear friend and colleague in the U.S. Senate, Johnny Isakson for his leadership on Africa.

The Senator and I had the opportunity to travel to five African countries earlier this year and it’s clear the Senator is a true friend to the continent.

As many of you know, the Senator and I are from different parties – the Senator is a Republican and I am a Democrat. But on AGOA, a bi-partisan and bi-cameral piece of legislation, we agree on its vital importance. Yes, Members of Congress can agree on some things and AGOA is one such example.

It has been a pleasure to get to know the Senator over the last year and I very much look forward to working closely with you, Senator Isakson, as we continue to work across the aisle and within our respective chambers to swiftly re-authorize AGOA. 

Let me start out by saying that I am fairly new to Congress. I am in my second term and my third year in the U.S. House of Representatives. During this time, I have come to establish strong working relationships with many of the African Ambassadors in Washington, many of whom are here today.

Of the many conversations we have had on a range of topics, AGOA almost without fail tops the agenda. And so it is an honor and a privilege to be able to participate in this Forum, one that is so important to not only to African nations but to the United States.

This year’s AGOA Forum takes place two months after President Obama visited Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania.  During his visit, The President announced robust initiatives -Power Africa and Trade Africa – both aimed at building Africa's trade and investment capacity as well ensuring the conditions are ripe for the further expansion of  the type of economic growth already seen over more than a decade.

Indeed, when we talk about Africa’s growth potential, we often reference that six of the world’s fastest growing economies are found on the continent. But imagine. Imagine if that number doubled or tripled over the next decade. That reality, where African nations en masse achieved middle income status, is possible. In fact, it is not a question of if this will happen, but of when and by what means.

We heard from President Obama yesterday who reiterated his support for the seamless reauthorization of AGOA.

AGOA will not solve all the continent’s challenges nor will address all of the actions that need to be taken to promote trade or to attract investors, or to build infrastrucutre. But, AGOA plays an important role in what must be a comprehensive array of initiatives aimed at addressing fundamental constraints to  economic growth that we all believe the continent can achieve.

This year's Forum provides a tremendous opportunity not only for high-level dialogue on AGOAs successes but a chance to assertively review how to improve AGOA and to achieve "increased trade, sustain equitable growth and job creation.”

Congressional Perspectives

I am here at this year’s forum to listen, participate and embrace new ideas, which look at ways to strengthen U.S.-African trade and investment. Ideas, frankly, that will support AGOA in the short and long-term.

As a Member of Congress, I have had the opportunity to travel to the continent on several occasions and to see what is happening in various economic sectors.  Most importantly, I have also had the opportunity to listen to the views of ordinary people and experts regarding trade with the U.S.

My Congressional colleagues and I believe in strong bipartisan support of AGOA and we have held a number of policy breakfasts featuring key African and U.S. stakeholders;

We have also held hearings; sponsored and co-sponsored legislation complementary to AGOA; in addition, supporting staff delegations to the continent to gain greater insight and perspectives on what works and what needs to be fixed.

Our job, as U.S. legislators is to work in a bipartisan fashion to expedite the reauthorization of a strengthened AGOA which serves as the core of an expanding trade and investment partnership between the United States and the countries of Sub Sahara Africa -- countries with burgeoning middle class populations interested in purchasing American goods and services and, by extension, contributing to the expansion of jobs not only in Africa but in the United States. It can be a win-win arrangment if we allow it.

Acknowledging the history of AGOA and its strong bi-partisan and bi-cameral support, and knowing that time is of the essence, I have, with the support of my colleagues, convened a bi-partisan and bi-cameral AGOA Working Group.

My Congressional colleagues and I have met on several occasions. Our staffs have also met to discuss and brainstorm ideas and to consider the recommendations from a broad assortment of stakeholders. It seems everyone has an opinion and there certainly isn’t a shortage of great ideas.

What is important to note is that we’ve started. We’ve started early in a bid to avoid repetition of t what we saw last year with the extension of the fabric provision. Congress took too much time to extend the provision and countless jobs were lost. We, Members of Congress, did not to live up to our responsibility and fully recognize the damage caused by failing to act swiftly. This is why we have started the process early.

Let me reiterate that the Senator and I are here because we are committed. We are committed to seeing this through and while our other colleagues could not be here they send their greetings and note that they too are committed. My colleagues and their staff in the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the House Ways and Means committee are hard at work looking at AGOA’s renewal. And I believe the same is true in the Senate.

It’s my firm belief that with strong support from the Administration and the type of bi-partisan support we have seen for AGOA in the past, we can achieve re-authorization well before it’s expiration.

AGOA is a critical part of the U.S. relationship with Africa. We know and you have said that many of your countries are unable to fully utilize AGOA for a variety of reasons including unreliable or minimal access to power, inadequate infrastructure, barriers to regional trade and the list goes on.

As I said earlier, one of the primary reasons for me to be here was to listen and to learn. Yesterday, we heard the call for national AGOA strategies, perhaps in similar fashion to the HIV/AIDS strategies that PEPFAR and the Global Fund encouraged. Such plans proved beneficial to set goals, develop effective strategies, and benchmarks for self-evaluation. Only a handful of your countries have AGOA strategies and for those that do, their ability to more fully access and utilize AGOA is without question – the strategies help.

We also heard discussion about the need for technical assistance. Such assistance can play a critical role in building capacity to address persistent challenges African nations experience as you seek new and sustainable ways to add value to manufacturing and processing.

We have heard you clearly on the desire for a 15 year extension and concerns of AGOA graduation. At this time, we do not have answers on these or other points. Through the AGOA review process outlined by Ambassador Froman and through our own efforts in Congress, we will continue to engage African nations, the private sector and civil society to explore all possibilities.

Some 13 years after AGOA was signed into law, the Africa of today is a remarkably and refreshingly different place. It’s a continent on the move.

We see fast growing economies, expanding middle classes with disposable income, growing interest and engagement by Malaysia, China, Turkey, India and Brazil to name a few, as well as efforts by governments to make critical macroeconomic reforms to strengthen and open markets.

In all, African nations are more ready today for AGOA than ever before.

As I noted previously, AGOA will not solve all of the continent’s challenges but it is one important part of what must ultimately be a comprehensive and holistic approach that if permitted will strengthen Africa’s continued rise.

Thank you and I look forward to continuing this dynamic conversation.

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