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November 4, 1999

Senate Passes Trade Bills for Caribbean and Africa

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  • Impasse in Senate Delays Action on Africa-Caribbean Trade Bills (Oct. 30, 1999)
    WASHINGTON -- The Senate on Wednesday approved a far-ranging package of trade bills for African and Caribbean nations intended to help flagging economies in those regions by opening new markets.

    The measure, passed by a vote of 76 to 19, would reduce or eliminate tariffs and quotas on a wide range of goods made in sub-Saharan Africa, Central America and the Caribbean, mostly products assembled with textiles made in the United States.

    If the legislation, the Africa Trade and Development Act of 1999, becomes law, it will be the first major trade promotion measure enacted in the United States since the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, a law that established duty-free commerce between Canada, the United States and Mexico.

    "This legislation not only offers a solid package for Africa and the Caribbean basin, but it is good for our people here at home," said Senator William V. Roth Jr., the Delaware Republican who heads the Senate Finance Committee. "The textile industry says it will bring in $8.8 billion over five years and provide jobs for 121,000 Americans. And this is just the textile industry."

    The passage of the bill is considered a victory for President Clinton, who has been lobbying senators by telephone for two weeks, hoping that the legislation would clear the Senate before a meeting of top international trade officials on Nov. 30 in Seattle.

    The United States trade representative, Charlene Barshefsky, said the vote would help the talks by showing that "the bipartisan consensus for trade, which had been absent in recent years, has been re-established."

    The package now goes to a conference committee with the House, which approved a bill for Africa that excluded the Caribbean, by a narrower vote, 234 to 163, in July. The two sides now have to agree on whether to include the Caribbean in a final bill, an action that they are quite likely to take, aides said Wednesday.

    In exchange, the Senate may modify a provision in its bill that would limit duty-free designations only to clothing made from fabric, thread or yarn from the United States, aides said. The House did not include the Caribbean in its bill largely because lawmakers from textile states and those with labor union constituents argued that exports from that region would threaten American jobs.

    Critics of the Senate bill's provision on Africa have made the same argument. But the measure's proponents say that United States trade with Africa is relatively small.

    Last year, American merchandise exports to Africa totaled $6.7 billion, while imports amounted to $13.4 billion. Merchandise exports from the 24 nations in the Caribbean region totaled $19.2 billion, and while imports ran to $17.1 billion.

    By comparison, United States trade with Japan alone totaled $180 billion.

    "By voting for a new trading partnership with Africa, the Senate is saying Africa is now too important to ignore," said Representative Charles B. Rangel, the Democrat from New York who was a principal sponsor of the measure in the House.

    The legislation is expected to benefit the Caribbean and Central America by allowing competition from areas hurt by Nafta.

    The Senate defeated all the amendments offered by critics of the trade bill except for one denying trade benefits to any country whose government condoned child abuse, like child prostitution.

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