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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 Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.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: Africa Trade Documents, 2

USA: Africa Trade Documents, 2
Date distributed (ymd): 990307
Document reposted by APIC

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

Region: Continent-Wide
Issue Areas: +economy/development+ +US policy focus+ Summary Contents:
This posting contains links for commentary and anaylsis on current bills before Congress concerning U.S. economic relations with Africa, as well as an open letter from the Washington Office on Africa.

The full text of the bills, as of the end of February, is available by sending a blank e-mail message to (HR434, 57K) or to (HR772, 73K). Press releases by proponents of each bill, and testimony from the Washington Office on Africa on behalf of the Africa Trade Policy Working Group, are included in a previous posting.

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Links on the U.S./Africa Trade Debate

In contrast to 1998, the debate this year concerns two alternative bills. The Clinton Administration, African Ambassadors, and private business, as well as a bipartisan group in Congress including senior members of the Congressional Black Caucus, have lined up behind HR434, which was introduced first and is modeled on last year's African Growth and Opportunity Act. Critics of the bill, also including many in the Congressional Black Caucus, now have an alternative in the recently introduced H.O.P.E. for Africa Africa, HR772. Although HR434 has greater initial momentum in Congress, and has been on a fast track through committees to a vote expected soon by the House of Representatives, support for HR772 has grown rapidly in recent weeks. Debate on the House floor is likely to include amendments which may alter the texts of the bills. The prospect of any bill on the topic in the Republican-controlled Senate is uncertain, however.

For additional background and updates:

(1) President's Annual Report on "A Comprehensive U.S. Trade and Development Policy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa." (in PDF format)

(2) Updated information on legislation

(3) Additional documents from Congreesional Hearings

(4) Updates, action alerts and background on the campaign for HR772 and against HR434

(5) Jesse Jackson, Jr. Web Site

(6) Analysis of broader trade issues

(7) Additional links on Africa trade issues

Washington Office on Africa
212 East Capitol Street
Washington, D.C. 20003, U.S.A.
Phone: 202/547-7503; Fax: 202/547-7505

Economic justice and the African trade bills before Congress:

An open letter to the Members of Congress and to the administration of President William J. Clinton

We at the Washington Office on Africa have joined with our colleagues in the faith-based and non-profit-based Africa advocacy community in struggling with the economic justice issues implicit in the Africa trade bills placed before the current and previous Congress. It has been a struggle because the evidence of a serious commitment toward meaningful inclusion of Africa in the mainstream of the world economy by this administration and by friends of Africa in Congress is clear. The provisions in these bills with which we are uncomfortable are not, therefore, a product of the indifference to and oftentimes hostility toward the African continent, its governments and its people that we have seen on the part of the government of the United States in the past. We welcome this heightened respectful attention to U.S. policy toward Africa, strong evidence for which has come from, among others, the African diplomatic community here in Washington.

This said, the Washington Office on Africa, a long-standing church-supported advocacy organization, must ultimately reach our position on African-related issues before Congress and the administration by justice standards. We do not consider this a naive approach. We believe that both historical and contemporary evidence suggests that national self-interest is best secured by just and mutually-beneficial relations with other nations and regions. It is our appeal that U.S. trade policy toward Africa be held against the touchstone of fundamental principles of economic justice.

We consider that the following values are crucial to the meaningfulness and effectiveness of any U.S. trade policy toward Africa, and we wish to reflect here upon the extent to which they are met in the current trade legislation before Congress:

  • The U.S. must respect the integrity of Africa nations to discern and implement economic policies appropriate to the needs of their people.

The Washington Office on Africa readily accepts that an unduly restrictive and controlled economic environment can be detrimental to a healthy economy. To that extent we recognize that the existence of large numbers of parastatals in many African nations is unproductive, and that complex regulations governing business activity in many African nations discourage investment and initiative. These features further expand opportunity for corrupt activities, which make economic prospects all the more discouraging. We can therefore understand the temptation of a nation such as ours, with a vibrant economy, to counter economic policies in many African nations by offering a prescription based upon our own economic system. The African Growth and Opportunity Act (HR 434) does this by its constant references to "market-led economic growth," "the private sector," and "economic reform," the latter a clear euphemism for movement toward our economic model.

We find this regrettable, for two reasons: First, it denies the integrity of African nations to define economic policies appropriate to themselves. Our first objection is thus an objection to American arrogance. An African nation, faced with extremely high poverty levels, with stunning unemployment rates, with limited health and other social services, and with an overwhelmingly young population without access to extended education, must discern for itself how "freely" the marketplace should operate in light of the demands of a legitimate and pressing social agenda that that nation faces. The protests that African nations have made to some provisions of Structural Adjustment Programs are rightly founded upon the imposition of policies detrimental to the social well-being of their people. For the United States to define economic policy for African nations if they are to benefit from a U.S. trade bill is, at best, inappropriate.

Our second objection is that these U.S. legislative prescriptions for African economies blindly assume that the market, left alone, will meet societal needs. There are no grounds to presume that this is so. The persistent gap between rich and poor in our own nation demonstrates the opposite, despite years of free market policies. It is not anti-private sector to suggest that an African nation might legitimately moderate market forces in the interest of such social "goods" as universally-available health care and education, yet insistence in HR 434 of our definition of economic reform suggests otherwise.

Provisions in HR 434 for the establishment of a Free Trade Area (sec. 6) need to be seen in the context of this U.S. legislative prescription for Africa. It may well be that sub-Saharan Africa or African regions or particular African nations may choose to express their sovereignty by entering freely into such trade agreements. Far better here, however, for the U.S. to recognize the asymmetries of power revealed in differing levels of development, and to speak instead of policies and programs that will serve as catalysts for sustained growth and equitable development, whatever economic form those efforts may ultimately take.

We endorse a more open trade environment to the extent that it is broad-based and embraces fair labor practices and environmental sensitivity. We endorse a process toward mutually-beneficial trade agreements rather than a declaration of a defined goal -- Free Trade Areas -- that by their very nature are unlikely to be mutual in the U.S.-Africa context. The African Growth and Opportunity Act's preoccupation with an unencumbered private sector simply is not conducive to authentic and broad-based development.

Even if, therefore, one argues that these U.S. prescriptions for Africa exist mainly in "findings" and "progress toward" statements in HR 434's eligibility criteria, and are therefore likely to be applied with generous subjectivity, and even if negotiations for Free Trade Areas may lead to adaptations that are more fully mutual, the Washington Office on Africa believes that U.S. legislation should demonstrate greater respect for the challenges Africa faces and for the rich diversity of appropriate means to address those challenges. "Fair trade," "mutually-beneficial investment," and "broad-based economic development" are far more helpful standards than are expressed in HR 434.

  • Economic relationships must be mutually-beneficial -- any policy that seeks only a U.S. advantage and neglects the concerns and aspirations of Africa is a flawed and ultimately counter-productive policy.

The African Growth and Opportunity Act begins with the Congress' speaking of "the mutual economic interest of the United States and sub-Saharan Africa." The textile provisions (sec. 7), while posing minimal threat to U.S. textiles, may provide some advantages to some African nations. Unfortunately, the overall impact of the trade provisions of HR 434 seem one-directional. For example, the expanded provisions in sec. 14, dealing with the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service, call only for an identification of U.S. goods and services for export to Africa and speak only of the entrance by U.S. businesses into Africa. If there is a genuine commitment to mutuality, then we urge that a similar effort be undertaken, perhaps by the Asst. U.S. Trade Representative for African Affairs, to identify African manufactured goods already being produced that have the potential to become a meaningful export industry. The absence of any mention of mining exploitation, which raises difficult economic, political and social questions in Africa, and of oil exploration and extraction in Africa, which at this moment is causing serious environmental and social consequences, especially in Nigeria, undermines any claims of mutual benefit. And demands that African nations open their doors to uncontrolled foreign investment simply make a very unequal "partnership" worse.

  • U.S. policy must juxtapose international trade with continuing development aid and international debt relief if the social and economic hopes of Africa are to be realized.

Development assistance and international debt relief for Africa are as critical to economic growth as a more open trade relationship. We find it gratifying that the House International Relations Committee restored the section from the previous Congress' bill dealing with assistance under the Development Fund for Africa (now sec. 17 in HR 434). We are also pleased that HR 434 expresses concern for "deep debt reduction" so as to remove this stunning burden upon African economies.

It remains, however, an embarrassment to us that the United States, given our stature in the world, continues to be so miserly in its development assistance to a continent whose needs are so vast. We believe that the Development Fund for Africa's earmark for Africa should be reinstated and funded at an annual level not less than 1994, and that the African Development Foundation, which represents such an important support for grassroots African civil society initiatives, should secure increased funding. Given the presence of development assistance sections in HR 434, we believe those provisions should be included here.

It also remains discouraging to us that debt remission in HR 434 is linked specifically to the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. A close examination of the Mozambican reality affirms the need for an alternative to the HIPC approach. The level of debt servicing in Africa as a proportion of most nations' budgets, and the failure of HIPC to move the process forward rapidly and deeply, lead us to call for a far more flexible approach to debt relief, in terms of both international and U.S. bilateral loans.

We hope that comments about "trade not aid" made at an early stage in this debate have now been silenced. It has never been, and is not now, an either-or choice. Economic justice demands that we acknowledge the great economic disparities in the world, and the impact of those disparities upon the human condition. Excessive debt perpetuates those disparities, and severe limitations upon aid from the richest nation on earth denies the fulfillment of the grand human potential that is present within Africa. "Growth and Opportunity" have a nice ring in the title of HR 434. Only if U.S. legislation deals more substantively with aid and debt issues will that title have any real meaning.

  • U.S. trade policy must be grounded in a concern that economic benefits will accrue not merely to an African elite but also to those in Africa living in poverty.

We are pleased that the House International Relations Committee accepted an amendment to the eligibility requirements in HR 434, upholding internationally-recognized standards of protection of worker rights in Africa. We also acknowledge that there are scattered references to the status of women in that bill. At the same time, we regret the failure of the House committee to accept a further amendment regarding environmental protection as a crucial aspect of economic development. Our hope is that this latter failure will be rectified.

  • U.S. economic policy toward Africa must encourage the active participation of African civil society in decision-making.

We appreciate the effort in HR 434 to create an ongoing structure by which U.S. officials can hear African finance and trade officials. If U.S. officials take advantage of this opportunity to listen as well as to speak, the Trade and Economic Cooperation Forum (sec. 5) has the potential to affirm true mutuality and partnership. We also value the encouragement the U.S. is to offer to nongovernmental organizations to hold parallel meetings to the Forum. This opportunity for African civil society to be engaged in the discussion will not happen, however, unless African NGOs are identified by other than governmental entities, funding for African NGO participation is provided, and structures are established ensuring an active inter-relationship between the NGO meetings and the Forum. The absence of any such structural provisions in the H.O.P.E. for Africa bill (HR 772) is a matter for regret. We are similarly concerned that the advisory committees of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Export-Import Bank include representatives from African civil society.

The Washington Office on Africa believes that these are crucial provisions. African political leadership has frequently failed to hear the voices of their own people. This failure has not only denied people their basic rights; it has also undermined economic development in that the invaluable gifts and insights of African grassroots leadership have been kept from the policy-making process. If the U.S. is serious about hearing African civil society, both HR 434 and HR 772 need to give substance to the intent.

These then are the principles by which we have considered African trade legislation before Congress. Our hope is that the legislative process will lead to revisions that will render U.S. economic policy toward Africa more respectful of African hopes and more sensitive to African realities. Ultimately, however, we are not convinced that the emphases of the African trade legislation before Congress provide the vision for a more ethical, humane, developmental approach toward Africa. Whatever may emerge from Congressional consideration of the African Growth and Opportunity Act and the H.O.P.E. for Africa Act, the Washington Office on Africa urges Members of Congress and this administration to treat this trade legislation as a beginning, and to move on to envision afresh the immense potential for an empowering U.S. policy toward Africa, one characterized by genuine partnership and one respectful of the diversity of that continent and of our world. Such an approach will lead to a far more flexible policy and program and process defined not by American parameters but by human creativity. At some point -- and we believe that point is now -- the U.S. needs to approach Africa with the view that there is something to be learned as well as offered. When we do that, we will be able to speak of economic justice more comfortably when we speak of U.S. economic policy toward Africa. The Washington Office on Africa will welcome the opportunity to be part of that discourse.

Yours faithfully,
Leon P. Spencer
Executive Director

February 24, 1999

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC). APIC's primary objective is to widen the policy debate in the United States around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups and individuals.

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