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11/24/02 - FREE TRADE AND AFRICA'S FUTURE - 2002-11-25

At a meeting of the Southern African Customs Union in Johannesburg, South Africa, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Don Evans said that "free markets and free enterprise are the keys to unlocking social, political, and economic opportunity around the world, especially in Africa." To this end, the U.S. will begin negotiating a free trade agreement with the customs union member countries: South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, and Swaziland.

This effort follows the African Growth and Opportunity Act, or A-G-O-A, enacted by the U.S. Congress in May 2000. This first-ever trade agreement between the U.S. and Africa makes African countries that implement economic reforms eligible for duty-free and quota-free trade with the U.S. Some thirty-six sub-Saharan African nations have been deemed eligible. In August of this year, the duty-free and quota-free status of apparel was extended to sweaters, T-shirts, socks, and other items not covered in the first agreement.

The A-G-O-A agreement made possible increased exports to the U.S. from sub-Saharan African countries. Not only is trade between the U.S. and Africa growing, it is diversifying away from mineral and energy exports. In the first six months of this year, non-fuel A-G-O-A exports to the U.S. from Africa increased by one-hundred-fifty percent, including an increase of more than two-hundred-forty percent in apparel exports.

Access by African countries to U.S. markets is not the only goal of the U.S. free trade initiative. The U.S. wants to bolster Africa's capacity to produce. This means building new roads, providing more electrical power, developing port systems and other infrastructure. Over the past three years, the U.S. has contributed nearly two-hundred million dollars in technical assistance to African economies.

Free trade is the future of Africa and the world. As U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick put it, "Ultimately, free trade is about freedom. This value is at the heart of our larger reform and development agenda. Just as U.S. economic policy after World War Two helped establish democracy in Western Europe and Japan, today's free trade agenda will both open new markets for the U.S. and strengthen fragile democracies in Central America and South America, Africa, and Asia."