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African Growth and Opportunity Amendment Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington DC

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Mr. COONS. Mr. President, I rise today to speak both in favor of the passage of the bill, S. 3326, and to speak against the Coburn amendment.

I, first, wish to thank Leaders Reid and McConnell, as well as Senators Baucus and Hatch, for working together diligently to find a path forward for passing this bill. I wish to recognize Senator Coburn and Senator Menendez for being willing to work with us to get to today.

I say with some regret that I stand to speak against the Coburn amendment because I respect and recognize Senator Coburn's determination to hold this body accountable and to find pathways forward to deal with our record deficit and debt. In that broader objective, I look forward to working with him on finding responsible pay-fors in future bills and in finding ways that we can steadily partner to reduce the deficit and to find and root out waste and abuse in Federal spending. But I have to say in this particular case, on this amendment, on this day, if we change the pay-for, we kill the bill.

We have heard clearly from the Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Mr. Camp, and from his ranking minority member, Congressman Levin, that they will not take up this bill if amended in this form, if broken and reassembled, or if sent over in any other way. The pressure of today and the pressure of the value, the importance of this bill is what I choose to speak to. I may at some point reserve time to speak to other issues embedded in the amendment, but I first wanted to speak to the underlying bill.

I am the chairman of the African Affairs Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and it is, in some ways, my special honor and challenge to help this body grasp why the African Growth and Opportunity Act is important for us to reauthorize today. Specifically what I am speaking to is the third-country fabric provision which expires in September. This Chamber is about to go out of session later today, and every day we delay in the reauthorization of this critical provision costs jobs, costs opportunity, and costs the future. Let me speak to that for a few minutes, if I might.

Creating American jobs and fueling our economic recovery is my top priority, and I know it is for many Members of this body. That is why I am here to talk about what we can do to strengthen our economic security. It may surprise my colleagues, but the truth is one of the best ways to look for that future opportunity is one that was considered among the least likely just a few years ago in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Access to emerging markets is critical to America's health and growth, and increased political stability and rising wages in an emerging middle class across Africa makes it the most promising continent for countries willing to invest in long-term partnerships with the United States. In AGOA--the African Growth and Opportunity Act--and its third-country fabric provision, the United States has seized this opportunity to pursue broad and mutually beneficial economic relationships that give American consumers and businesses economic security by allowing eligible countries to export apparel from Africa that is more affordable to the American consumer and, in so doing, create jobs in Africa that otherwise would be elsewhere in the world.

This key provision, as I have said, expires in September. Our delay in moving forward with reauthorization that has earned strong bipartisan support is already disrupting production for American apparel companies along with the supply chain on which their customers depend. In my view, we cannot wait to take action. America can't afford to turn its back on African markets, and Congress can't afford to turn its back on extending this provision.

Every 3 years since 2000, Congress has unanimously passed the reauthorization of this provision without controversy, and it is, in my view, time to do so again.

I respect Senator Coburn's concern that we must change business as usual in this Chamber, but the timing of this amendment and the timing of this concern is, to me, not wise.

Today Secretary Clinton is in the middle of a continent-wide tour of African countries. She is engaging with countries for strong emerging middle classes, and that offers us great opportunity: future economic partnership and very real political partnerships. From Ghana to Ethiopia to Tanzania to a half dozen other countries, some of the fastest growing economies in the world are in Sub-Saharan Africa. The seven countries that are the fastest growing economies in Sub-Saharan Africa are home to 350 million potential consumers of our products. In my view, that is why I am urging my colleagues to vote against the Coburn amendment and to allow us to pass this critically important bill today. Failing to do so, in my view, is bad for Africa and for America.

Reauthorizing this provision supports the poorest African workers, the vast majority of them women. Senator Isakson, who is my capable and talented ranking minority member on the African Affairs Subcommittee, joined with Congressman Smith and Congresswoman Bass, who are our counterparts in the House, in hosting a meeting 3 months and 6 months ago with roughly 35 Ambassadors from all over the continent who pleaded with us to reauthorize this critical provision.

The economic benefits of a strong middle class in Africa are obvious--a pool of new consumers hungry for American products; potential partners for us. And countries with flourishing middle classes are more likely to have strong democratic institutions, good governance, and low corruption. They are more likely to be stable and bulwarks against instability in Africa, a region that I think is vital to our future.

In short, then, reauthorizing this provision and continuing our strong bipartisan support of tradition for AGOA is where the United States can continue to differentiate itself from competitors such as China, which recently surpassed the United States as Africa's No. 1 trading partner. The United States has exports to Sub-Saharan Africa that exceeded $21 billion last year, growing at a pace that exceeds our exports to the rest of the world.

Africans want to partner with us. They want to work with us, and they seek opportunity. This sort of bipartisanship that in the past has allowed this AGOA third country fabric provision to be reauthorized without controversy is one that I think we should embrace again today. So let's end the delays and reauthorize this provision.

Mr. President, I yield 3 minutes of my time, if I might, to the Senator from Georgia, who would like to speak to the issue of the value of the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

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Mr. COONS. Mr. President, I wish to thank my colleague from Oklahoma for his remarks.

If I might just conclude my comments on this amendment by speaking in a little detail on the amendment and its substance.

The Senator from Oklahoma essentially directs the administration to find $192 million in reductions in spending in the following agencies: the Department of Commerce, the Small Business Administration, the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the Trade and Development Agency.

In my role as the chair of the African Affairs Subcommittee, we recently held a hearing on expanding U.S. trade opportunities in Africa for exactly the reasons I elucidated previously: that there is enormous growth, there are great opportunities across the continent. Our competitors from all over the world--not just China but Brazil, Russia, and other European countries--are expanding their investment and their seizure of these opportunities in a way that we are not.

The structure of this amendment would simply declare that there is $200 million of waste and duplication at several important trade agencies and direct the administration to slash their budgets for that amount and then hope for the best.

That is what Senator Coburn's proposed offset would do. These are agencies that promote and finance U.S. exports and help small and large U.S. businesses export and compete in a global market. In my view, exports, particularly to this market, mean jobs. So I am not convinced that now is the time to blindly slash our ability to export. I think we should instead be encouraging exports.

In the context of the Federal budget, $192 million is a very, very small amount of money. I look forward to working with Senator Coburn to find other places where we can find reductions of this size. But this amendment, at this time, on this day, would kill the broader and more important objective of reauthorizing the African Growth and Opportunity Act third-party fabric provision, of moving forward with relevant Burma sanctions, and of moving forward with an important technical fix to CAFTA.

This is a carefully crafted compromise bill that the House will pass once we pass it. I urge my colleagues to vote against the Coburn amendment and to move forward with passage of this vital bill.

Mr. President, I yield back the remainder of my time and yield the floor.

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