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15 Jun 2004 10:46
The United States House of Representatives voted to extend a trade pact that offers duty-free treatment on some goods and other trade benefits to the poorer countries of sub-Saharan Africa.
The legislation, approved by voice vote on Monday, would prolong the life of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, or AGOA, by seven years, to 2015.
More urgently, it grants a three-year extension to a provision of the 2000 act, set to expire on September 30, that allows African participants to sell duty-free to the United States textiles made from yarn and fabrics coming from third countries.
“In a few short years, AGOA has managed to draw hundreds of millions of dollars of foreign investment to the continent, creating hundreds of thousands of desperately needed jobs,” said Republican Ed Royce, chairperson of the International Relations subcommittee on Africa.
Also on Monday, the chairperson and top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, Senators Charles Grassle and Max Baucus said they will introduce a companion Bill in the Senate. “There’s no reason the Senate shouldn’t pass this Bill this year,” Grassley said.
According to the office of the US Trade Representative, imports under AGOA reached $14-billion in 2003, up 55% from the previous year.
US direct investment in sub-Saharan Africa was up 12% at the end of 2002 to $8,9-billion.
Thirty-seven of the 48 countries of sub-Saharan Africa qualify for AGOA.
Jesse Jackson Jr, a Democrat, was one of the few lawmakers to speak against the legislation, saying it compels African participants to meet conditions on security and economic reforms that are not imposed on other US regional trade agreement
The administration, in a statement, voiced its strong support for the House Bill, saying AGOA “is the centerpiece” of US policy to “encourage economic and political reforms, alleviate poverty in sub-Saharan African countries, facilitate the region’s integration into the global economy and create jobs here at home.”
The White House also urged Congress to remain aware of free-trade talks that have begun with several AGOA countries.
Negotiations opened a year ago for a free trade agreement with the five nations of the Southern African Customs Union—Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland. - Sapa-AP
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