Obama administration presses for renewal of trade deal with Africa

Obama administration officials pressed for the renewal of a sunsetting trade deal with Africa during a hearing Thursday, saying it represents the “cornerstone” of U.S.-Africa commercial relationships.

At issue is a provision of the 2000 African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) that allows African nations to export textiles to the United States duty-free, regardless of the fabric's country of origin. The so-called “third-country fabric provision” is set to expire at the end of September, and Congress's delay in reauthorizing it has already led to a 30 to 35 percent reduction in new apparel orders over the same period last year, according to Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Africa.

“The impact for us is significant, but for Africa it is catastrophic,” Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson told Coons's panel. “It means jobs will be lost and facilities will be closed.”

Lawmakers argue that the provision is good for U.S. businesses as well, and House Ways and Means leaders introduced bipartisan legislation last week to quickly reauthorize the provision.