Friday, November 14, 2003

Trade, Not Aid, for Africa

The New York Times has a very interesting article on the importance the African Growth and Opportunity Act is having for Africa. Unfortunately, the article is terribly marred by the marxist mindset of its' author, a Mr. Marc Lacey.

To hear President Yoweri Museveni tell it, AGOA, the African Growth and Opportunity Act, approved by Congress in 2000, is the best thing the West has done for Africa since independence.

AGOA, which reduced or eliminated tariffs and quotas on more than 1,800 items, has drawn similar factories across Africa as foreign investors, mostly from Asia, seize upon its incentives to give this underdeveloped continent a chance.

For workers the job can be as grueling as a day in the fields, still Africa's most common way of making a living. The Tri-Star workers, all new to formal employment, say their shoulders ache and their feet swell by quitting time, which bosses sometimes extend into the evening if a big deadline looms.

But at least they have work. Job creation has been dramatic. For the first time in some African countries, the largest employer is no longer the federal government but a private enterprise. Kenya has projected 50,000 AGOA-related jobs. Lesotho estimates it has created 10,000 new jobs in the last year, most of them going to young women.

"Made in Uganda," say some of the tags on clothing sent to Target, Mervyn's and the Children's Place. "Made in Lesotho," say others bound for stores like the Gap and Limited.

The labels, representing a tiny percentage of apparel imports to the United States, give tremendous pride to countries that have long been at the margins of the global trading system.

Although products from oil to umbrellas to fresh yams are included under the trade law, clothing exports appear to be giving stagnant African economies the biggest stimulus.

Now here's the part of the article that really pisses me off:

While jobs have been created, most of those getting rich from AGOA are not Africans but Asian investors, rising numbers of whom have returned to Uganda after being expelled in the 1970's by the former dictator Idi Amin.

To which my response is "So bloody what?" What are the Africans contributing here other than commodity labor? How much would said labor be worth were it not for these Asian investors? We're talking about countries in which up to 50 percent unemployment rates are commonplace, and yet this economically illiterate journalist is writing as if these workers, who ought to be grateful for having jobs at all, were somehow being cheated. Here we see on display another paid-up subscriber to the "labor theory of value" fallacy. But it gets worse:

To fill the jobs, Uganda had a countrywide recruiting campaign, with government officials aiding in the process. Workers take home $40 a month, live in a company dormitory and eat three free meals a day at the company canteen. The jobs attract plenty of interest among Africa's legion of unemployed even if workers sometimes complain that the salaries — above average in the local market — go far quicker than they imagined.

"The products we're making are fetching a lot of money," said Rebecca Bagonza, 28, who has a diploma in social work but could find no other job than the one at Tri-Star. "Shouldn't the people who make the clothes get some of that money?"

There are two things to be pointed out here, the first of which is that, contrary to Ms. Bagonza's fancies, textile manufacturing is far from being a highly profitable line of business; but putting that aside for the moment, shouldn't someone point out to this genius that she and others like here are already getting "some of that money"? It's called a salary, for goodness sake! But what sort of thinking ought one to expect from a person with "a diploma in social work"? The West exports its' silliest ideas with ease, but the ones that make it rich don't transfer so easily. If it were up to me, I'd ban all teachers of professional victimhood under the guise of sociology, colonial studies and the like from stepping foot on African soil.

This economic stupidity isn't confined to New York Times journalists and young women with worthless diplomas, however.
In an embarrassment to the president, who visited Washington earlier this month to urge American officials to extend AGOA benefits, hundreds of Uganda's AGOA workers recently walked off their jobs, accusing their supervisors of exploiting them. The AGOA girls wanted to form a union, a kind of protection that is weak in Uganda and throughout Africa.

The boss at Tri-Star, Veluppillai Kananathan, a Sri Lankan businessman, promptly fired nearly 300 workers whom he considered trouble makers.

The women marched to Parliament, camped on the lawn for nearly a week and won the sympathy of some top government officials. "The AGOA girls have a legitimate case," Dr. David Ogaram, the labor commissioner, said.

Of course Mr. David Ogaram would say that; how else could he justify his existence in a country in which the lack of productive uses for labor is the most pressing problem? Why does Uganda even need a labor commissioner anyway? I suspect this Ogaram character is just one more government parasite installed in a sinecure as a favor to some friend or relative of Museveni's. At any rate, my sympathies are entirely with Mr. Kananathan, who did the right thing in firing these 300 malcontents. If jobs are so available for the taking that these chappies feel in the mood to unionize, they ought to be able to find other work elsewhere with ease, ought they not? But let us now turn our attentions to America, where a certain president, who came into office promising to champion free trade, now feels it incumbent upon him to punish the African ingrates for daring to challenge him to live up to his promises.

Next year, AGOA could be weakened in another way. As it is now, most of the apparel shipped to the United States from Africa comes from fabric made outside the continent, usually from Asia. Unless a waiver is approved by Congress, AGOA will soon require that the fabric originate in Africa.

That sounds like just what would be needed to restart Africa's shuttered textile mills. But more likely, experts say, such a requirement would raise costs for the apparel factories and prompt many of them to move out of Africa.

The lobbying campaign to improve AGOA has already begun in the halls of Congress. But a stumbling block has emerged: trade officials in the Bush administration are upset at Africa's defiant stand against trade subsidies at the recent trade organization talks in Cancún, Mexico. Enhancing AGOA is not on the fast track, officials say.

Now, someone please tell me, in what way does Bush differ from a Richard Gephardt or a Howard Dean on free trade? Clearly none of them understand it, much less believe in the concept. What reason is there for a libertarian to support Bush, other than tax cuts? Frankly, I'm beginning to give up completely on this administration, so relentlessly has it disappointed my hopes.