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Public Statements

Increasing American Jobs Through Greater Exports to Africa

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, I rise with the intention of asking consent for the immediate consideration of passage of S. 2215, the Increasing American Jobs Through Greater Exports to Africa Act that I have introduced in the Senate with Senators Boozman, Coons, Cardin, and Landrieu. It is being sponsored and led in the House of Representatives by Congressman Chris Smith and Congresswoman Karen Bass.

It is a straightforward and bipartisan bill that tackles a very serious problem by specifically making sure that American companies have the ability to compete in the growing African market. Economists have called this the next frontier, and it is hungry for American goods and services. It is also a market that others are competing for too often at the expense of American businesses, American employees, American products, and American values.

China, in particular, has an aggressive strategy to help its companies invest in Africa, leaving a troubling footprint across the continent of its economic, labor, environmental, and governance values and standards. The loss to American workers and American influence on the continent is enormous and inexcusable. That is why we introduced this bill to make sure a senior administration official brings desperately needed coordination and leadership to the U.S. export strategies in Africa. It also makes sure the various agencies, such as the Department of Commerce, the Export-Import Bank, the Department of State, and others are fully engaged in helping foster U.S. investment in Africa.

For months we have been working with various committees of the House and Senate on this effort. I want to notably thank John Kerry of Massachusetts and Senator Dick Lugar of Indiana for seeing its unanimous support through the Foreign Relations Subcommittee was secure--as well as the Banking and Financing Committees for their help in allowing us to go forward.

The bill cleared the hotline on the Democratic side some time ago, and we worked with a number of our Republican colleagues to address many legitimate concerns. So imagine my disappointment at this closing hour when I learned that there is a new Republican hold blocking this bill at the very last minute.

Mr. President, you have been to Africa. You know what we are facing. This is a continent which is emerging in the 21st century in a way that we never imagined. It is surprising to some to learn that when they try to project forward where the economic growth in the world will occur in the next 10 or 20 years, 60 percent of that growth will be in Africa. Many people still view it in a stereotypical context of some backward continent of people with limited resources and limited ability. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Africa is going to emerge in the 21st century. The question is, Will the United States be there as a trading partner sharing not only our goods and services but our values? We ought to take heed to the fact that the Chinese are there, and their role is growing. If we step back and allow the Chinese to master this continent at our expense, we will pay for it for generations. They will literally have ensconced themselves in this economy in so many different ways.

Currently, they are making what they call concessional loans, which means discount loans. If they want to build a stadium in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, go see the Chinese. If they need to borrow $100,000 or $100 million, whatever it happens to be, they will give it to them. They just need to pay them back 70 percent of what they borrowed--only 70 percent. How could the Ethiopians say no?

Then the Chinese say: On one condition; the contractor is going to be from China and at least half of the employees will be Chinese employees, as will the engineering firm, the agricultural firm, and all of the different agencies of the private sector that come in to build this stadium. Then when it is finished, they don't leave. They stick around to bid on the next project. They become an integral part of the economy of that nation at the expense of the United States.

What should we do about it? Nothing? After hearing this story in Ethiopia, I came back and gathered the American agencies that promote exports to Africa. It turned out there were a half dozen of them. They were glad to see one another. They don't get together that often. I asked them what they were doing. They said they each have concerns, and they are doing a little of this and a little of that but no coordination.

How many speeches have we heard about the waste of government and taxpayer dollars because of the fumbling and uncoordinated effort by our government. That is why I introduced this bill to avoid that.

The purpose of this bill is to dramatically increase exports to Africa, to use existing resources at existing agencies to achieve it, and to make sure that at the end of the day we create more jobs in America and more businesses successfully exporting goods and services to that great continent. At the end of the day, the Africans will have quality products, goods, and services, and there will be more jobs in the United States. What is wrong with that equation? Obviously, there is at least one Senator who thinks it is a bad idea, and he has put a hold on this bill after I spent months working to clear it through all of the committees in the hopes that we could have this bipartisan bill.

This is a bill that is supported and sponsored by Republican subcommittee chairman Chris Smith over in the House of Representatives. This is supposed to be what we are about--to come up with a bipartisan effort, an effort that will create jobs in America, coordinate existing agencies, and open new markets for America's goods and services that will benefit every State in the Union. That is what I set out to do.

I am so close to getting it done. One Senator is going to object. It is unfortunate after all of the work we put into this that they would stop this bill. I hope the Senator will reconsider his position.

I have an official request that I am going to make at this point.

I ask unanimous consent that the Senate proceed to the immediate consideration of Calendar No. 536, S. 2215; that the committee-reported substitute amendment be withdrawn; the Durbin substitute amendment which is at the desk be agreed to; the bill, as amended, be read a third time and passed; the motions to reconsider be laid upon the table, with no intervening action or debate, and any statements relating to this measure be printed in the Record.


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