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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

USA: Letter on Africa Trade

USA: Letter on Africa Trade
Date distributed (ymd): 971027
WOA Document

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

Region: Continent-Wide
Issue Areas: +economy/development+ +US policy focus+
Summary Contents:
This posting contains a letter to members of Congress from the US-Africa Trade Policy Working Group. The letter calls for amendments to the proposed African Growth and Opportunity Act, to ensure that it not impose rigid economic conditionalities damaging to African grassroots interests, that it increase resources for aid and debt relief, and that it include wider consultation with diverse sectors of civil society in African countries.

+++++++++++++++++end profile++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

US-Africa Trade Policy Working Group

Conveners: Bread for the World - (301) 608-2400,
contact: Ray Almeida (

Washington Office on Africa - (202) 546-7961,
contact: Doug Tilton (

October 16, 1997

Dear Representative:

The Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, H.R. 1432, is one of the most substantial pieces of legislation on Africa to come before the House in many years. It offers Congress an opportunity to begin to move away from a piecemeal approach to policymaking--dominated by efforts to respond to isolated crises--and to consider instead how the United States can construct a coherent and comprehensive Africa policy that acknowledges and facilitates Africa's success. We applaud the sponsors of this legislation for recognizing that effective policy requires complementary initiatives to reduce Africa's debt, provide carefully targeted foreign assistance, and stimulate increased trade by opening US markets to African goods and by promoting infrastructure development to enhance the capacity of African nations to exploit these new opportunities.

If adopted, H.R. 1432 has the potential to shape US relations with Africa well into the 21st century. It is therefore essential that this legislation articulate both a coherent policy direction, consistent with the overarching principles and objectives of US foreign policy, and also a set of concrete initiatives to advance those objectives.

In the final analysis, H.R. 1432 must be judged on the basis of its capacity to effect sustained improvements in the lives of ordinary Africans. Market-oriented economic reforms will not automatically benefit a majority of households. To the contrary, rapid and indiscriminate liberalization has frequently had devastating consequences for vulnerable populations. Market liberalization should not be seen as an end in itself, but should be pursued selectively as part of a package of reforms designed to promote sustainable development especially the reduction of poverty and hunger in environmentally responsible ways.

Similarly, increased investment in infrastructure and social services, while essential, does not guarantee that poorer communities will benefit. Without broad popular involvement in determining development priorities, such investment is more often geared to the needs and interests of powerful national and foreign elites. Decisions concerning the pace and extent of economic reform must be widely and openly debated. This requires the development of inclusive, participatory, and accountable political institutions with the capacity to be sensitive to local conditions.

These concerns have been stressed in several critiques of H.R. 1432 and related White House proposals that have recently emerged from grassroots organizations on the African continent.* Given the serious reservations that these groups have expressed about the bill in its present form, we urge current and potential proponents of H.R. 1432 to amend the legislation to:

  1. Articulate more flexible eligibility requirements which focus on the promotion of sustainable development - The eligibility requirements contained in Section 4 (and mirrored in the goals outlined in Section 10, as amended by the International Relations Committee) constitute a rigid and inappropriate "one-size-fits-all" prescription for economic reform. This parallels the structural adjustment programs that have been imposed on many African countries by the World Bank, often with disastrous consequences for poverty reduction efforts. Moreover, conditioning US assistance, including GSP concessions, on compliance with these demands contradicts the government's commitment to the promotion of democracy and participatory governance a pledge made at the Denver Summit of the Eight and reiterated on numerous other occasions. Instead of dictating terms, the eligibility requirements should underscore the US government's desire to form mutually beneficial economic partnerships with those nations that are making steady progress toward the reduction of poverty and the establishment of open and accountable policymaking institutions that enable all citizens to take part in determining political and economic priorities.
  2. Support initiatives that produce tangible benefits for Africa's poorest and most vulnerable people - Although this legislation acknowledges the importance of continued development assistance programs and the urgent need for substantial debt relief, it makes no additional funding available for these programs. Instead, funds are earmarked for trade and investment programs, the most immediate beneficiaries of which will be the comparatively affluent not only successful individuals within nations, but also already "successful" nations within the region. Of the new initiatives funded by this bill, the $500 million infrastructure fund created by Section 11 stands the best chance of extending services to poor communities. However, the bill does not give priority to the development of accessible infrastructure that responds to the needs of the poor.
  3. Insist that US programs model broad consultation by giving grassroots groups a meaningful voice in policy planning and implementation - Grassroots church, labor, human rights, and community groups are often best placed to articulate the needs, interests, and aspirations of ordinary citizens. It is essential that such groups be given a formal and continuing role in all of the key structures responsible for implementing the legislation, including the Economic Cooperation Forum (Section 6) and any committee formed to advise on the deployment of funds for investment in infrastructure and equity.

We would welcome an opportunity to discuss these recommendations with you further or to share with you critiques which we have received from African organizations.

We know that you share our eagerness to ensure that this legislation generates discernable improvements in the lives of all of Africa's peoples, and we look forward to working with you toward this goal.

Yours sincerely,

Africa Faith and Justice Network, Maura Browne, Executive Director

Bread for the World, David Beckmann, President

Catholic Conference of Major Superiors of Men's Institutes, Rev. Ted Keating, S.M., Director for Justice and Peace

Church World Service, Rodney I. Page, Executive Director

Friends Committee on National Legislation, Edward W. Stowe, Legislative Secretary

Lutheran World Relief, Kathryn F. Wolford, President

Maryknoll Justice and Peace Office, Marie Dennis, Associate Director

Mennonite Central Committee, James Shenk and Terrance Sawatsky, Co-Directors, Africa Program

NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, Kathy Thornton, R.S.M., National Coordinator

Northern Arizona Peace and Justice Network, Warren Day, Convenor

TransAfrica, Randall Robinson, President

Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, Heather Foote, Director, Washington Office

United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society, Dr. Thom White Wolf Fassett, General Secretary

U.S. Catholic Mission Association, Rev. Eugene S. Pocernich, Associate Director

Washington Office on Africa, Rev. Barbara Green, Acting President

  • Two of these critiques were distributed by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC), and are available at:,, and

Significant additional material on related issues raised at the Denver Summit and in response to annual reports by the US Trade Representative can also be found on the site (use the search for documents on the site, or the geographical listings of documents for 1996 and 1997). Also see the collection of documents at

This material is produced and distributed by the Washington Office on Africa (WOA), a not-for-profit church, trade union and civil rights group supported organization that works with Congress on Africa-related legislation. WOA's educational affiliate is the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC).

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