Sunday, May 23, 2004

Senate Democrats Stall Extension of African Growth and Opportunity Act

The Democratic Party's Senate representatives show how much they care about the welfare of all those poor Africans, not like those mean, racist Republican thugs all those who are sensitive to Third World suffering ought rightfully to despise ...

Amid concern that key provisions of the African Growth and Opportunity Act will expire later this year unless Congress votes an extension, supporters have issued a plea for public pressure on Congress.

U.S. government estimates suggest that hundreds of thousands of current and prospective jobs in some of Africa's poorest countries are at stake. Advocates of the extension say the next few days are critical to extending the legislation in time to prevent erosion of major gains it has fostered.

The legislation, popularly known as Agoa, which has been a centerpiece of U.S. Africa policy under both Presidents Clinton and Bush, enjoys strong bipartisan backing in Congress. But most Senate Democrats have stayed clear of endorsing this year's proposed extension of the law, which now is in serious jeopardy.

"The U.S. national interest is served by a self-sufficient Africa that is prosperous, peaceful, healthy and democratic," says an appeal from a broad coalition of corporations, religious organizations, nongovernmental groups, lobbyists and trade associations formed to press Congress to renew key provisions of the Act that otherwise expire in four months.

"Agoa must be extended" is the message that should be sent by phone, letter and email to members of both Houses of the U.S. Congress, according to the coalition, which is co-chaired by Jack Kemp, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives and 1996 Republican vice presidential nominee, Coca Cola's Carl Ware, and Rosa Whitaker, who served as assistant trade representative for Africa under both Clinton and Bush and now heads the Washington, DC-based Whitaker Group.

Enhanced revisions of the legislation, known as the Agoa Acceleration Bill, or Agoa3, were introduced in both Houses last year. The bill won unanimous approval by the House Ways and Means Committee on May 5 and is expected to win passage by the full House in early June. Senate action on the message has been snarled by procedural disputes unrelated to the bill itself.

The new bill extends overall application of the law from 2008 to 2015, which supporters say is key to encouraging foreign investment in Africa's manufacturing sector. More immediately, the bill continues duty-free access to the United States for apparel made in Africa from fabrics of another country until September 2007. This provision for "third country fabric" imports ends September 30.

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"I'm calling on my fellow Democrats to stand up on this issue," Whitaker said this week in an interview. "Not one job has gone from North Carolina to Lesotho, or any other place in Africa." Agoa should be seen as a "humanitarian initiative" and not principally a trade measure, said Whitaker, who played a key role in passage and implementation of the legislation, first as an aide to Rep. Charles Rangel (D-New York) and then as the first assistant trade representative for Africa in the White House.

"Where are the Democrats at this critical moment?" she asked, citing specifically Hillary Rodham Clinton, from New York. "Her husband signed Agoa" when it was adopted nearly four years ago. "She should be with us now," Whitaker said.

The only Democrat cosponsoring the current bill, introduced by Richard Lugar (Indiana), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, is Joseph Lieberman (Connecticut), who ran for vice president on the ticket with Al Gore in 2000 and unsuccessfully sought his party's presidential nomination in 2004. The other cosponsors, all Republicans, include Michael DeWine (Ohio), Peter Fitzgerald (Illinois), Chuck Hagel (Nebraska), John McCain (Arizona) and Rick Santorum (Pennsylvania). Another Democrat, Max Baucus (Montana), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, is on record as a supporter, though not cosponsor of Lugar's Agoa3 bill.

In an effort to boost prospects for Agoa's passage, supporters led by Lugar, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair, hosted a reception on Capitol Hill Tuesday with Bono, lead singer of the U2 band, who has become a prominent campaigner for debt relief and the fight against HIV/Aids in Africa.

"Trade is the most important thing to our friends in Africa," Bono said, addressing a large Senate hearing room filled with Congressional staff, lobbyists, African diplomats and Agoa supporters. American leadership on Agoa and HIV/Aids "sends a message to the world" at a time when the United States needs support from other countries, the Irish rock star said. Lugar said passage of his Agoa bill is "critical to further bolster the progress Africa already has made."

Ed Royce, Republican from California who chairs the House Africa Subcommittee, said it is important to act because "Agoa has lifted people with export-led growth and has promoted reform." Agoa-related trade and investment has created some 200,000 jobs in Africa and spurred more than $340 million in investments, according to U.S. government figures.

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Congressional inaction on an extension "could have serious impact - losses of jobs, the closing of factories," Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Africa Florizelle Lister told the House Africa subcommittee on May 11. In one of Africa's smallest nations, Swaziland, with a population of just over one million, whose economy has been hard hit by HIV/Aids, the 28,000 jobs and the livelihood of some 100,000 people would be negatively affected by expiration of Agoa's key provisions this year, Prime Minister A. T. Dlamini told AllAfrica in an interview earlier this month. "This is very important for alleviating poverty in Swaziland," he said.

Like other African leaders who have visited the United States in recent weeks to champion Agoa, the prime minister noted that manufacturers need stable supply lines and investors want dependable environments. Planning for end-of-the-year holiday sales is already underway, and unless retailers are assured of extension of the third-country fabric provision, they may quickly shift apparel production from Africa to Asia. (emphases added)

It's inaction over issues like this one that make me immune to attempts by Democrats to sell themselves as somehow morally superior to Republicans when it comes to foreign policy, but when push comes to shove, they're always missing in action. It's a sure bet that not a single one of the lefties who made such a big hue and cry over Bush's shameful pandering to protectionist interests will raise their voices in concern about this particular issue - if they're even aware that it's an issue to begin with. At best, I expect they'll try to justify Democratic inaction as being in service of "a greater cause"; anything is justifiable if it serves to remove the evil Bushitler™ from service, even the return of 200,000 Africans into the throes of joblessness, and the foreclosure of any prospect of better things for millions more.