House debates bill promoting African trade
March 11, 1998
Some critics worry that African exports would hurt U.S.
textile and apparel workers
Web posted at: 12:22 p.m. EST (1722 GMT)
From Correspondent Kyoko Altman
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The House of Representatives is expected
to vote Wednesday on a bill promoting trade and investment in
Africa, a region traditionally ignored by U.S. companies.
Unlike Mexico and South America, where U.S. businesses have
flocked in recent years, the focus on Africa has historically
been on aid issues, not trade.
"We've opened up our doors to Mexico, Central and South
America, to all of Asia, and here is the richest continent we
got. We have to start somewhere," said Rep. Charles Rangel,
Still, the bill, aimed at spurring economic growth in this
rapidly growing region of 600 million people has stirred an
unusually passionate debate.
"This is a bad omen, a bad bill and a disaster for Africa,"
said Randall Robinson, president of Trans Africa, a wholesale
air courier to Africa.
Supporters say the bill would boost the economies of
poor African countries
The bill would eliminate tariffs and import limits on
sub-Saharan African countries that are taking steps to
democratize and open up their economies. Of the 48 countries
in the region, nearly half are expected to qualify.
Some opponents charge the bill puts too much power in the
hands of U.S. international companies that could take
advantage of the African people. Others worry that African
exports will hurt U.S. textile and apparel workers.
"What I'm doing is trying to make sure that the people of
South Carolina do not get short-changed in the guise of
helping South Africa," argued Rep. James Clyburn, D-South
Supporters say Africa's industry is not a threat to the U.S.
economy, because import growth is expected to be very small.
They argue that the bill would help poor African countries
stand on their own and reduce their dependence on U.S. aid,
which has dropped by 25 percent over the last two years.
When President Clinton visits Africa later this month, he's
expected to argue that the shift in U.S. policy toward trade
is not only good politics, but good economics as well.