November 4, 1999
Senate Passes Trade Bills for Caribbean and Africa
Impasse in Senate Delays Action on Africa-Caribbean Trade Bills (Oct. 30, 1999)
By ERIC SCHMITT
ASHINGTON -- 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.