WASHINGTON – The success of one of the most important programs aiding U.S. trade with sub-Saharan African countries is at risk,top government officials said Tuesday.
The African Growth and Opportunity Act,which was put in place in 2000,has reduced trade barriers,provided U.S. development assistance and led to trade agreements. But Congress must pass a bill to extend AGOA from 2008 to 2015 and keep other provisions from expiring Sept. 30.
“AGOA is in jeopardy,” said Rep. Edward Royce,R-Calif.,who chaired a House InternationL Relations subcommitee on Africa hearing on the issue. “Without this extension,we'll be undoing much of the good that AGOA has done. Our credibility as a nation that takes an interest in the plight of the world's poorest continent is on the line.”
AGOA helped double U.S. imports from 37 African countries from $7.6 billion in 2001 to $13.2 billion in 2003.
The third-country fabric provision,which expires in September,allows the least-developed Africa countries without fabric-making capacity to use fabric from other countries and still have the clothing eligible for AGOA trade preferences.
“There is a sense of urgency because,if African countries can't use fabrics from other parts of the world,it will limit them,” said Noelle LuSane,a staff member on the African subcommittee for Rep. Donald Payne,D-N.J. “This is pretty serious.”
The bill has already passed the House Ways and Means Committee,which handles tax trade issues. The full House will consider the bill in the next few weeks,and it is expected to pass,a committee staff member said. He said the staff doesn't know how the bill will fare in the Senate and that President Bush has not indicated if he supports it.
David Beckham,president of the Bread for the World Institute,which works to cut hunger and poverty in Africa,said uncertainty over this provision may cause Kenya to lose 30,000 jobs and more than $30 million in revenue this year.
In a statement,he said that the only continent where hunger,poverty and disease continue to increase is Africa.
“The longer Congress waits to make this important decision on third-county fabrics,the greater the losses in jobs and investments,which Africans can ill-afford,” Beckham said in his statement. “AGOA has become a household name in many African countries,touching the lives of many poor people.”
Witnesses said that sub-Saharan Africa is involved in only 2 percent of world trade but accounts for 10 percent of the world's population. A major topic of discussion included strategies to make African agricultural exports more appealing to neighboring countries.
Beckham said the most effective way to combat hunger and poverty in Africa is to invest in agriculture because most of Africa's population lives in rural areas dependant on farming. Agriculture is the source of 40 percent of its exports and 70 percent of its employment.
“Many countries in Africa refuse to grant land-owning privileges to farmers,” said Emmy B. Simmons,assistant administrator at U.S. Agency for International Development for economic growth,agriculture and trade. “They don't own the land,they can be kicked off at any time and their future is very insecure. The traditional farm system is becoming obsolete due to the increasing population.”
But Simmons said she is also concerned about the quality of food exported from Africa.
“There is no way we are going to invite in our country products infested with pests,” Simmons said. “We are very careful.”
Payne asked if there was any “real evidence that fruits and vegetables from Africa” are substandard.
“If we are going to assume African products are going to be bad,we will never get started,” Payne said. “I hope we don't scare people away from investing in those products.”
A program set up in 2001 has aided Southern African nations in their recent completion of pest risk assessments on grapes,baby carrots and squash. The program has offices in Ghana,Botswana,and Kenya.