documentBy Charlene Porter
Washington — Strong bipartisan support for a healthy U.S.-Africa relationship and the continued economic development of the continent can be found in both houses of the U.S. Congress, two senators told the 11th U.S.-Sub-Saharan Africa Trade and Economic Cooperation Forum, known as the AGOA Forum, in remarks June 13.
The two lawmakers, Senator Christopher A. Coons, Democrat of Delaware, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relation Committee's Subcommittee on African Affairs, and the subcommittee's ranking Republican, Senator Johnny Isakson from Alabama, came to the State Department with that message for the African ministers, civil society advocates, women entrepreneurs and business people attending the two-day forum.
Coons described U.S. congressional support for sub-Saharan Africa as being "broad, deep, bipartisan." Sustained relations with the countries of sub-Saharan Africa are, he said, one of the "few great, bright spots of bipartisanship" in the legislative branch of U.S. government today.
In the divided U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, he wryly told his audience, "a bill declaring the time might not succeed," especially in an election year, as 2012 is. Yet lawmakers have given persistent support for programs promoting African development, passed by both Republican and Democratic administrations, Coons noted.
"Many of the great initiatives of the previous administrations -- the [Democratic] Clinton administration, the [Republican] Bush administration -- have been continued, extended and sustained through the present administration," Coons said.
Isakson, who followed Coons to the podium, echoed Coons' comment on the strong bipartisanship U.S. relations with Africa enjoy, and added: "Africa is the continent for the 21st century for America and for the world."
Like Coons, Isakson has traveled extensively in Africa.
The AGOA Forum, where both senators spoke, is named for the African Growth and Opportunity Act, known as AGOA. That law, which passed in its original form in 2000, promotes trade and investment between the United States and sub-Saharan Africa and grants trade preferences to eligible nations that adhere to principles of free markets, democracy and the rule of law.
A critical provision of AGOA is due for renewal in 2012, the so-called "third-country fabric" (TCF) provision. Both senators said they are working hard to make sure the provision comes up for an extension vote soon. The provision gives garments made in an AGOA country all the tariff preferences of the act, even if the materials from which the garment is assembled come from a different country.
The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) has said the TCF provision is "crucial to the continued survival of Africa's textile and apparel industry, which has generated hundreds of thousands of jobs in sub-Saharan Africa," according to a USTR fact sheet.
"We will not sleep until this is done," Isakson said of his and Coons' efforts to push the renewal of the TCF provision to a vote.
The United States adopted AGOA to encourage reform of Africa's economic and commercial systems, strengthen markets and develop a long-term, mutually beneficial trade relationship that would spur job growth both in Africa and the United States.