WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – Black African countries have made substantial economic progress during the past four years, thanks to expanded trade with the United States, according to bi-partisan leaders in Congress and much of the African diplomatic corps.
‘It has been said that America matters to Africa, but what we have been doing for the last several years is making the point that Africa matters to America.’
Congressional Black Caucus member (D-La.)
The increased trade, which came about as a result of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA)–enacted in 2000–allowed sub-Saharan countries to export most of their products to the U.S. duty free. But unless Congress acts quickly and passes the AGOA Acceleration Act of 2004, the measure will expire in September, according to Republican and Democratic leaders.
“Expanded trade through AGOA has done more to improve fundamental economic conditions within Africa than aid,” Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement to reporters at the Capitol on April 1. Many jobs have been created, allowing many poor Africans to support themselves and their families for the first time.
Economic development in Africa has also meant that many of the 37 eligible countries have made progress in other important areas as well, including the rule of law, worker and human rights, and child labor laws.
“This is a symbol of what can be done when we have not only a commercial commitment, but we have a humane commitment,” Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), Ranking Democrat on the Committee and principal author of the original AGOA, told reporters.
Despite many deep ideological and legislative battles raging in Congress, leaders of both parties were able to agree on the importance of keeping the door open for more trade with Africa, Mr. Rangel pointed out.
“We recognize all of the health and economic problems that are faced by this continent, and then we recognize the greatness and what is expected of a country like the United States of America. For those reasons, we felt compelled not to allow our political differences to interfere in what we have felt is a moral commitment,” he continued.
As a result of AGOA, U.S. imports from African countries increased by 61.5 percent in 2001 over the previous two years. In 2002, African exports to the U.S. rose another 10 percent to $9 billion, and figures for last year indicate that exports increased another 50 percent above 2002.
“We have a proven record of success there,” said Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), Chair of the House Africa Subcommittee. Now, he said, Congressional leaders want to broaden and deepen AGOA, include more countries and more industries.
One important new and promising area is “eco-tourism,” Rep. James McDermott (D-Wash.) pointed out. “Eco-tourism is an advantage Africa has over any other place in the world. What’s missing has been infrastructure. So, what we’re trying to do in this bill is to begin to lay the groundwork for helping that kind of infrastructure.”
“If you just remember one thing: a lion is worth about $65 if you shoot it. It’s worth about $75,000 if it’s part of eco-tourism. That’s why the hunting and all the things that have been traditional, we are trying to change that, and preserve and also build,” he added.
The key provisions of the legislation, however, have to do with textiles and wearing apparel, extending the overall AGOA program from 2008 until 2015. The so-called “Third-Country Fabric” provision allows least-developed AGOA beneficiary countries to use fabric grown in other countries for the manufacture of garments to be exported to the U.S., just as though the fabrics had been grown on the African continent.
This provision was included in the original legislation because few eligible countries yet have the capacity to make fabrics. The bill also allows so-called “ethnic fabrics” that are made on machines to also qualify for duty-free treatment.
“It has been said that America matters to Africa, but what we have been doing for the last several years is making the point that Africa matters to America,” said Congressional Black Caucus member William Jefferson (D-La.). “Economic prosperity has got to be a cornerstone for making it work for Africans. This trading relationship gives the fuel to the private sector that will help to develop Africa’s prosperity. It is a continent of vast resources that are vital to the United States’ strategic future.”
The Dean of the African Diplomatic Corps agrees.
“We are ready. We are ready,” Dr. Amadou Lamine Ba, Ambassador from Senegal, told The Final Call in an interview. “We are working on all the issues that can strengthen our relationship: governance, democracy, freedom of press, good management of public and private funds. All of these things are taking hold in Africa, more and more.
“In terms of economy, there are a lot of social and economic demands that Africa needs help on. Because you cannot have a democracy when the majority of people are illiterate. You cannot have it when people are hungry. You cannot have it when a lot of people are dying from AIDS, for example.
“Because of that, all of the governments are trying to work to strengthen the macro and micro economic aspects with the social demand,” he continued.
“I think AGOA has helped a lot. For market access to the United States, which has provided sustainable jobs, as they say, good jobs in many countries. But there is a long way to go to have many countries actually benefit from it.”