Senior officials of the United States and 37 sub-Saharan African countries have convened in Washington for a review of trade progress under the market-opening African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) approved by the U.S. Congress in 2000. In a keynote speech, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said real progress against African poverty is only possible through business-led growth.
AGOA, a Clinton administration initiative that has expanded African access to U.S. markets, has helped fuel a huge increase in U.S.-Africa trade since its inception nearly six years ago.
But officials on both sides say the progress has been uneven, with some African partners benefiting more than others and trade figures swelled by growing U.S. imports of African oil.
At the kick-off session of the two-day conference at the State Department, Senegalese Foreign Minister Cheikh Tidiane Gaudio heaped praise on the Bush administration for what he said is an "unprecedented" number of initiatives on behalf of Africa on fighting AIDS and advancing debt relief and trade.
But he said progress in U.S.-African merchandise trade is being threatened by the pending expiration of some U.S. market preferences, especially in the critical textile and apparel categories.
The Senegalese minister, heard through an interpreter, also lamented that trade is still hampered by what he termed a "mind-set," shaped by media coverage, that Africa is in perpetual turmoil.
"The responsibility of Western media is fully committed when, on a daily basis, they equate Africa with civil war, savage killing, mutilation, AIDS and malaria, and many others," he said. "Not only do they know well the proverb that says that people only go where they feel secure, but it seems to me that these media ignore that fact that Africa is not just a country or region, but a continent of 53 countries of more than 700 million human beings who every morning wake up, work hard, and score successes in all areas to fight for the political, economic, cultural and social renaissance of Africa."
Secretary of State Rice, for her part said U.S. policy toward Africa is rooted in partnership not in paternalism, and is based on doing things with the people of Africa, not for them.
"The United States does not view Africa as the sum of its problems, nor as an object of international pity," said Ms. Rice. "No, we view the men and women of Africa as authors of their own destiny, as individuals of agency and dignity who have the right to flourish in freedom and who bear responsibility for their own successes. We believe that this success rests in the strength and the spirit of African citizens and we reject what President Bush has called the soft bigotry of low expectations."
The secretary of state, who attended last year's AGOA forum in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, said follow-on Bush administration initiatives have aimed to help African countries reach their full potential in world trade.
She also said the United States is in the forefront of efforts in the Doha round of world trade talks to increase market access for African and others developing states, especially in farm products, and to reduce the financial burden of African countries in multi-lateral debt relief talks.
At the same time, she lamented that in most African countries, governments still limit private business creation with time-consuming bureaucratic red tape and excessive fees.