TRALAC - Trade Law Centre

USTR Stresses the Need to Focus On Finished Items

Saturday, 19 June 2004

Source: L'Express (Port Louis, Mauritius)

US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick urged Senate Democrats on Thursday not to play «political games» with a bill to extend textile and other trade benefits for sub-Saharan African countries until 2015.

The House of Representatives passed the legislation earlier this week on voice vote in a sign of broad support for the African Growth and Opportunity Acceleration Act.

A bipartisan group of senators - including Republican leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota - swiftly introduced the same legislation in the Senate after the House vote.

However, Zoellick told reporters said he has since learned that some Democrats are demanding "an endless process of amendments, which will be a tragedy for Africa at a time we have good bipartisan support for this bill."

Kenya"We hope that they will recognize this is not a piece of legislation that they should be playing political games with," Zoellick said at a joint news conference with Kenya Trade Minister Mukhisa Kituyi, whose country is one of the major beneficiaries of the African trade legislation. Because of the tight legislative calendar, Republican leaders only want to bring up the bill if it will pass quickly, a Senate Republican aide said. The bill addresses an immediate problem faced by many sub-Saharan textile producers by allowing them to continue using third-country fabric for an additional three years under a duty-free US import program. Kituyi said he hoped the Senate could quickly approve the trade bill "without there being too much political debate."

Uncertainty over whether the third-country fabric provisions would be extended has already led to the loss of 5,000 jobs in Kenyan textile industry, he said.

Extension of the third-country provisions would give African producers "a fighting chance" to compete against China when a 50-year-old international textile quota system expires at the end of the year, Kituyi said.