For months now, legislators, foreign dignitaries, trade specialists and private industry professionals have met in Washington, D.C., to discuss an extremely important, but often overlooked trade law called AGOA--the African Growth and Opportunity Act.
While it may be unfamiliar to many Americans, AGOA's value is a well-known benefit to the U.S. garment industry and to thousands of families in Africa who depend on the business it generates to feed their families. One of AGOA's chief mainstays is a provision that permits African nations to import raw materials from anywhere in the world, produce apparel, and export that apparel to the U.S. duty-free. Without intervention, this critical provision was set to expire on Sept. 30.
Recently, due to a coordinated bipartisan endeavor from members of Congress from both the House and Senate, and the African Diplomatic Corps, AGOA was passed--eliminating the continued threat of job losses in Africa as well as a weakened trade agreement between the U.S. and the emerging world leader.
The passage of this legislation is positive for both Africa and America. In a recent report, the Brookings Institute notes that companies, including Levi's, the Gap, Old Navy, Victoria's Secret, Target, Calvin Klein, Gloria Vanderbilt, Vanity Fair and Lands' End have all received apparel from Africa and in turn sell these products to U.S. consumers. The renewal of the Third Country Fabric Provision, which is encompassed in this agreement, provides support to businesses worldwide at a time when they need all the assistance they can get.
The garment industry's tradition of determining decisions through scheduled orders planned months in advance is why any further delay in extending AGOA's fabric provision would have caused immediate harm to U.S. and African companies, and the many African people they employ. Prior to concerted efforts from Democratic and Republican members of Congress over the last few weeks, reports indicated that companies doing business in countries such as Lesotho, Mauritius, Botswana, and Swaziland began to slow and even cancel orders, because of their concern Congress might not extend the law in a timely fashion.
Signed into law in 2000, AGOA spans three U.S. Presidents and has always enjoyed support from Democrats and Republicans. While the legislation is a lifeline for Africa, it actually costs the U.S. very little. Across Africa, we see economic growth rates that outshine that of our own; Africa is now home to six of the world's fastest growing economies. As countries such as China, Brazil, and India develop new and robust trade policies directed toward Africa, the U.S. continues to lag behind, thus placing American businesses at a severe and serious disadvantage.
In AGOA, the U.S. has decided to look beyond the humanitarian crises and conflicts that have long been hallmarks of the world's approach to Africa and instead pursue a broad and mutually beneficial economic relationship.
We now have a guarantee that will sustain the business industries in both the United States and Africa's garment industries. Additional jobs will not be lost and the good of AGOA will continue to progress throughout the continent.
The collaborative effort to swiftly re-authorize AGOA's Third Country Fabric Provision grants us the opportunity to usher in a new era of bipartisanship to strengthen our trade relationship with the continent, for the benefit of families, workers and communities both here in the U.S. and across Africa.
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