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The Africa Growth and Opportunity Act—HR 434, and the Hope for Africa bill—HR 772, both relate to the economic future of Africa and they are polar opposites.

This interview is with Congressman Jesse L. Jackson, Jr. (Democrat, Illinois), the author of the Hope for Africa bill and a fierce opponent of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act. Recently, the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act has moved quickly and it appears ready to go before the full House for a vote in May, 2000. 

IPOAA: What is the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act?

JACKSON: The African Growth and Opportunity Act, also known as AGOA, is officially sponsored by conservative Republican Congressman Phil Crane of Illinois and supported by liberal Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel of  New York. AGOA is a first of its kind trade bill with Africa. It attempts to bring the nations of Sub-Saharan Africa into the larger circle  of international trade or economic globalization.  Supporters of AGOA  argue for an integrated approach to U.S./Sub-Saharan trade policy based on similar "proven" initiatives by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).  They purport that AGOA expands market access for  African products and, therefore, presents new opportunities for African  economic growth.  What they also say is that AGOA enhances ongoing  economic reforms -- called "structural adjustments" -- to insure growth and an expanded market for U.S. goods and services.  What they claim is that AGOA expands an essential international trade and investment  component to current U.S./African trade, debt reduction and developmental assistance policies.

IPOAA: What exactly are the provisions of the bill to which you are opposed?

JACKSON: First and foremost I would say most generally that I am opposed  to AGOA because it is better described as a "big business" bill whose  primary benefits will go to U.S. multinational corporations.  Only a few Africans will benefit.  To borrow from Dr. W.E.B. DeBois, it will benefit some of the "Talented 10th" in Africa but, in my judgment, the plight of  the "disinherited 90" will be made even worse.  Second, AGOA does not take debt relief seriously, and debt relief is one of the biggest hindrances to economic development among the poor nations of Africa.  AGOA provides no debt relief whatsoever despite the fact that Africa's crushing $230 billion debt burden is a major obstruction to economic and social  progress.  There's no substantive mention of debt cancellation in AGOA, only a statement of good intentions.  By contrast, my HOPE legislation provides for comprehensive debt cancellation.  With upwards of twenty percent of the sub-Saharan nations' Gross National Product going to debt  service, fewer resources can be devoted to meeting local needs, such as education and health care, because the economic growth that is generated is primarily going to service their foreign debt.

IPOAA: Are there other items to which you are opposed?

JACKSON: The HIV/AIDS crisis is another concern I have.  AGOA ignores the HIV/AIDS crisis as well as the debt crisis.  AGOA contains language that says we should do something about the AIDS Crisis, but fails to provide any substance to actually address the issue at all.  My HOPE bill addresses the HIV/AIDS crisis by targeting assistance from the Development Fund for Africa for AIDS education and treatment programs; makes it U.S. policy to assist sub-Saharan African countries in efforts to make needed pharmaceuticals and medical technologies widely available; and prohibits the use of U.S. funds to undermine African laws regarding intellectual property rights and competition policies that are designed to increase the availability of HIV/AIDS medications.

IPOAA: I heard that some provisions of ACOA threaten the sovereignty of African countries to control their own infrastructure and their economic resources. Is that true?

JACKSON: The African Growth and Opportunity Act rejects African nations'  right to self-determination by coercing them to adopt the IMF's "structural adjustment"  economic development model as a condition of assistance.

IPOAA: Coerces them to adopt the IMF model?

JACKSON: Right. It forces the IMF economic development model which already has devastating consequences in the region. The HOPE bill is based on the recognition that the African nations have the right to determine their own approach to economic development.

IPOAA: Can you give me some alternatives to the IMF model?

JACKSON: Basically, there are harsh conditionalities with the IMF model that were problematic with me.  AGOA contains no conditions that African workers and businesses benefit from the market access provisions. HOPE builds important provisions into the structure of the trade agreement. Ninety percent of the workers must be indigenous Africans; fifty-one percent of ownership of joint ventures must be African-owned; labor and workers' rights; protection of the environment; and more are built into my legislation.  It aims to raise the living standards and foster capital accumulation in Africa, not lower our living standards or drain needed capital at home. By raising their livings standards, and not lowering our  own, HOPE is a win-win deal for workers and the common people of both Africa and America.

IPOAA: Are there any other differences?

JACKSON: Development assistance was another major concern. The Africa Growth and Opportunity Act even fails to restore the budget line item for African Aid that was eliminated in 1996 by the Republican Party.  U.S. assistance to Africa is at an all time historical low of .2% of Gross National Product. Sub-Saharan Africa is now the ONLY region in the world with no guaranteed annual level of American aid.  And the bill provides no safeguards to insure that funds that are allocated will be used to benefit African nations and African economic development instead of U.S. corporations -- for example, seeking the subsidies or government backing of investment they were planning to undertake anyway.  And the HOPE for Africa bill restores the line item for Aid to Africa and ensures it is used for Africa's benefit.

IPOAA: What has the response been to both bills from members of the Congressional Black Caucus?

JACKSON: The majority of the Congressional Black Caucus, including the Congressional Black Caucus Chairman, Jim Clyburn, are supporters of the HOPE for Africa bill.  Significant congressional supporters include Cynthia McKinney, Barbara Lee, Elijah Cummings, Carolyn Kilpatrick, Sheila Jackson Lee, Maxine Waters and John Conyers, just to name a few.

IPOAA: What has been the response from the general Congressional body to both bills?

JACKSON: They have been working on AGOA for years and have a total of 75 co-sponsors -- a majority of whom are conservative Republicans.  In three  months, I lined up 74 co-sponsors for HOPE -- all Democrats.  This was  done because the bill made the most sense and because I had the help and  support of a broad base of constituencies outside of Congress -- religious, labor, environmental, HIV-AIDS activists, and progressive African American groups concerned about Africa.

IPOAA: How long has the Hope for Africa bill has in existence?

JACKSON: I introduced the HOPE bill at the beginning of the First Session of the 106th Congress on February 23, 1999.  The African Growth and Opportunity Act has been introduced in Congress during several sessions, but in the 106th it was introduced at the beginning of 1999.  The bill was passed in the House in 105th Congress, but failed to make it out of the Senate.

IPOAA: What has the response been from African heads of State or their representatives?

JACKSON: I've met with ambassadors from Africa in an attempt to gain their support and to discuss the concerns I've had with the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act.  In general the African Ambassadorial Corps supports the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act and continue to do so based on the assumption that it's better to get something done as opposed to nothing. They don't believe that in the climate of the current conservative Republican-led Congress that a progressive policy towards Africa can be passed.

IPOAA: When will this come to a head so to speak, and what is projected?

JACKSON: The Africa Growth and Opportunity Act has passed the House and the Senate.  It appears that the differences between the Senate version and the House version have basically been worked out.  As we speak, it's in a House/Senate Conference, but it appears as though, shortly, it will be reported out.  The conference version will probably pass both the House and the Senate and it could go to President Clinton for his signature anytime thereafter. Anything can happen, but that appears to be the case as we speak.

IPOAA: And progress with the Hope for Africa bill?

JACKSON: It has been referred to the House Banking and Financial Services Committee, the House International Relations Committee, and the House Ways and Means Committee.  None of the three Republican-led committees have even held hearings on the bill to this point.

IPOAA: If the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act should become effective, what do you see as effect on Africa socially, politically, and economically compared and contrasted with the Hope for Africa bill should it become effective?

JACKSON: From my perspective, the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act will actually make matters worse.  Last year, members could only vote against  the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act because they had nothing else to vote for.  That's why I created the HOPE bill, so members would have something positive to be for.  I was compelled to offer the HOPE legislation in order to offer a more balanced, equitable and mutually beneficial trading relationship between the world's most powerful country and the world's poorest region.
I felt compelled to offer HOPE to strike a proper balance between the interests of commercial profits on the one hand and the common needs of the people on the other.  HOPE was also offered to raise the bar, the standard for how the U.S. relates to Africa.  We destroyed Germany and Japan in World War II, but then, through the Marshall and MacArthur plans, we helped to economically reconstruct those countries which are now among our chief economic competitors.  We economically raped and ravaged Africa, yet we have never treated her in the same comprehensive way as we treated Europe and Japan.
After I introduced HOPE, the supporters of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act have repeatedly said that it is a narrow trade bill, not a comprehensive plan of African reconstruction.  I created HOPE for Africa as a comprehensive Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Africa.  I intended to raise the bar of expectations on how the U.S. economically relates to Africa.
HOPE was also introduced to raise the consciousness of members of Congress and all Americans in regard to Africa's real needs. HOPE is not just limited to practical political and legislative considerations.
I believe that HOPE succeeded as the alternative vision of trade in the New World Economy, and can be supported by American workers and the American people.  It is in opposition to the approach of NAFTA and Fast Tracking, GATT, structural adjustment programs of the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO.  So HOPE represents a new approach to trade generally, not just Africa trade.  I see HOPE as a model for trade in general for America.

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