Good afternoon. Welcome to today’s hearing on advancing our trade agenda and trade with Africa. Before hearing from our witnesses, I’d like to make three points.
First, we are committed to a seamless, bipartisan renewal of AGOA well before its expiration in 15 months. Congressman Rangel and I worked closely in developing this hearing – having jointly selected all the witnesses – and we are cooperating to develop a plan for AGOA’s renewal.
To improve the program, we are studying possible changes, with an eye toward strengthening utilization and effectiveness. We are listening to stakeholders on issues like capacity building, product coverage and rules of origin, eligibility criteria, and graduation, among others, so that we can determine what changes, if any, are appropriate. To assist in our review, we have requested an extensive study from GAO. In addition, as part of this hearing, we are requesting and encouraging additional analysis and suggestions from the public.
Second, to make AGOA more effective, we must help Africa address both political and supply-side barriers to trade. To encourage greater regional and global integration, Africa must remove domestic barriers to trade and investment, including high tariffs, forced localization requirements, legal restrictions on investment, and customs barriers, among others.
Supply-side constraints such as poor infrastructure, lack of regional integration, and other obstacles impede AGOA utilization. We are working with Chairman Royce and the Foreign Affairs Committee to develop approaches to assist African countries in maximizing AGOA utilization.
For example, earlier this year, the House passed the Electrify Africa Act with strong bipartisan support. I call on the Senate to act quickly on this important legislation.
Implementing the recently concluded Trade Facilitation Agreement would also help Africa address supply-side constraints and encourage greater investment from the private sector and development banks. I am frustrated that India is blocking adoption of the deal it agreed to last December, harming developed and developing countries alike and threatening the WTO’s viability.
Third, as we renew AGOA, we should also look at ways to deepen and expand our trade relationship with AGOA countries. We should expand our TIFA and BIT programs, and seek BITs with regional groupings. As countries become ready, we should be negotiating FTAs for the most robust trade relationship.
At the same time, I am concerned by the EU’s efforts to withdraw unilateral preferences and force African countries to sign bilateral agreements. This approach disadvantages U.S. companies seeking to do business with Africa and raises serious policy and development concerns.
Finally, the bipartisan TPA bill that I co-sponsored earlier this year with Chairman Camp includes strengthened provisions on capacity building and development. I call on the Administration to work with Congress to pass this important legislation.