1998 NCC News Archives

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"Strengthen U.S.-Africa Trade, Investment Relations,"
Urges Ecumenical Committee for Passage of Africa Trade Bill

JACKSON, Miss., Aug. 3, 1998 ---- In a push for Congress to pass The African Growth and Opportunity Act, a U.S. ecumenical committee and three ambassadors from Africa will hold a briefing here today to dispel myths about the legislation — especially regarding its impact on the U.S. textile industry — and to demonstrate the strength of American interest in Africa.

The ambassadors from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Uganda will be participating in the briefing, to be held at Galloway United Methodist Church, 421 Mississippi St., Jackson, Miss., from 1 to 4 p.m. today. A news conference will follow immediately.

Leaders of national organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AMEZ) Church, National Baptist Convention of America, African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), Church of God in Christ (COGIC) and National Council of Churches (NCC), have passed resolutions or spoken in support of the economic development of Africa, including strengthening U.S.-Africa trade and investments relations.

The African Growth and Opportunity Act (H.R.1432/S.778) is seen as a positive shift from the U.S. Cold War policy to one that will emphasize expanding trade with Africa. It is an attempt to change U.S. development strategies to balance aid with debt relief and long term trade and investments.

The shift is welcome by African nations as an important change for Africa at a time when Africans are seizing post Cold War opportunities to seriously tackle social, political and economic challenges that have plagued Africa for the last four centuries. Mel Foote of the Constituency for Africa in Washington, D.C., affirmed that "Africa has suffered enough under colonialism and U.S. Cold War policy. This shift to trade and investments is important for Africans to focus on real development issues."

Support for The African Growth and Opportunity Act has come from most members of the Congressional Black Caucus, with leaders such as Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) leading the charge for support of The African Growth and Opportunity Act in Congress. His influence was key to the passing of the bill in the House of Representatives in March 1998.

Another key support is from African leaders who have been involved in promoting the bill in Washington, DC. In a recent letter to President Bill Clinton, Ambassador Roble Olhaye of the Republic of Djibouti and the Dean of the African Diplomatic Corps, urged support of the bill stating that the continent remains "in great need of long term investment to develop its abundant resources." The signatures of 48 African Ambassadors were attached to the letter. A similar letter was sent to Senator William V. Roth, Jr., (R-DE), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance.

The bill (H.R.1432/S.778) would formalize U.S. corporate involvement in Africa, ensuring greater access to Africa’s huge market in the 21st century as the U.S. competes with a united Europe and Asia for markets abroad. Africa’s economy is already greatly influenced by former colonial nations like Britain and France. Asian nations such as Japan and China have also increased trade and investments in Africa. The current U.S.-Africa trade relations exceed that of Eastern Europe but trade and investments are mostly limited to South Africa and major African oil producing states: Nigeria, Gabon and Angola.

While there are some critics of the legislation it is generally felt that African Growth and Opportunity Act (H.R.1432/S.778) represents the best possibility of creating a new trade relationship between Africa and the United States in the near future. Rev. Paul D. Harris, Coordinator of the Ad Hoc Committee for the Passage of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (H.R.1432/S.778) stressed, "Clearly, this is a wake-up call for those who are truly concerned about Africa. We must be prepared to respond to Africa’s new reality... Doing business with Africa is both a pan African mandate and a global imperative."

The ambassadors are meeting in Mississippi at a time when The African Growth and Opportunity Act is greatly challenged by election year politics. The U.S. Senate Finance Committee has just passed a watered-down version to the bill passed by the House of Representatives in March. Benefits to Africa such as manufacturing textiles for export to the United States have suffered greatly. Ambassador Roble Olhaye described the recent Finance Committee action as a "slap in our face" and an empty gesture to a continent in great need.

The House of Representatives version had some key benefits to sub Saharan African nations, such as: duty free access of African textiles to the U.S. market; allocation of funds for the development of Africa’s infrastructure; debt relief to very poor African countries; and maintaining U.S. annual development assistance to Africa.

"Talking Points" being used by the Ad Hoc Committee for the Passage of the African Trade Bill emphasize that this legislation would help Africa create jobs without hurting U.S. workers or manufacturers. For a copy of the "Talking Points: Africa Growth and Opportunity Act," contact the NCC Africa Desk, 212-870-2645.

For the most part, the attitude of most of the Senators still appears to rest on the perception that most Americans have very little interest in Africa. "But the point must be emphasized that Africa matters," stressed Willis Logan, Director of the National Council of Churches Africa Office. "A stable and developed Africa is in the long term interest of the United States. Now, more than ever, our Senators need to hear from the American people that Africa deserves a fair hearing and a fair trade bill."

-end-

Contact: NCC News Department

Ad Hoc Committee for Passage
of the Africa Trade Bill (H.R.1432/S.778)
Willis Logan/Paul D. Harris
In New York:    (212) 870-2645
In Jackson: (601) 354-0515
                        (601) 353-6906

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