U.S. Mayor Articles

Senate Passes Africa Trade and Development Act of 1999; Legislation Now Goes to Conference

By Kay Scrimger

On November 3, the U. S. Senate passed the Africa Trade and Development Act of 1999 by a vote of 76 to 19. The measure would reduce or eliminate tariffs and quota on a wide range of products made in sub-Saharan Africa, Central America and the Caribbean, mostly goods assembled with U.S.-made textiles.

The legislation now goes to a conference committee with the House, which approved a bill for Africa that excluded the Caribbean by a vote of 234 to 163. The House and Senate will have to agree on whether to include the Caribbean in a final bill, an action they are likely to take, according to Congressional aides.

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, a concession to the textile industry.

Supporters of the bill argue that removing all quotas and taxes on African products would stimulate economic growth in the region and nurture the young democracies there.

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

The U. S. Conference of Mayors has been a strong advocate of legislation to help sub-Saharan Africa. At its Annual Meetings in San Francisco in 1997 and in New Orleans in June 1999, the Conference of Mayors passed resolutions related to the elimination of tariffs and other restrictions on trade with the 48 nations of sub-Saharan Africa.

At its leadership meeting in Fort Wayne in the fall, 1997, Mayor Paul Helmke, then President of the Conference of Mayors, appointed Denver Mayor Wellington E. Webb to head a special Task Force on Sub-Saharan Africa. Mayor Webb later developed an historic day-long Mayor's Summit on Africa, held at the Conference of Mayors 66th Winter Meeting on January 28, 1999, in Washington, D.C.

At that Summit, Mayor Webb summarized the Conference's position, "By expanding trade and investment in Africa, by contributing the region's political stability, by playing a constructive role in Africa's ascendance into the global economy, the U. S. can transform a relationship marked by exploitation and extraction into one of partnership and mutual benefit."

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