Date: Thu, 18 Feb 1999 23:30:57 -0600 (CST)
From: email@example.com (Rich Winkel)
Subject: Opening Up Africa For US Capital
/** labr.global: 247.0 **/
** Topic: Opening Up Africa For US Capital **
** Written 11:36 PM Feb 17, 1999 by firstname.lastname@example.org in cdp:labr.global **
Date: 02/17 7:48 PM
Opening Up Africa For US Capital
By Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman
17 February 1999
With friends like these, Africa certainly doesn't need any enemies.
Africa's "friends" in Congress are preparing to again introduce a
"NAFTA-for-Africa" bill. In early February, Representatives Philip Crane,
R-Illinois, and Charles Rangel, D-New York, are expected to propose an
African free trade bill modeled on the African Growth and Opportunity Act,
which passed the House of Representatives in 1998, but stalled in the
Some of the bill's sponsors are undoubtedly genuine in their desire to
afford economic opportunity to Africa. If Mexico has NAFTA, they believe,
then Africa should have its own free-trade bill. But providing those kinds
of benefits is akin to giving the plague. It's not exactly the kind of
gift you want to pass on to a friend.
Other backers of the bill perhaps have different motives. Here's bill
sponsor Philip Crane speaking last year to an International Fiscal
Association gathering in Chicago, as reported in Congress Daily: "Of those
countries in sub-Saharan Africa, to be sure, a lot of them are retards. I
I mean they've got a long way to go."
Other supporters of the bill include such suspect friends of Africa as
Chevron, Mobil, Exxon, Enron, Caterpillar, Bristol-Myers-Squibb, Bank of
America, the Gap, Texaco, Amoco, Citicorp, Kmart and Coca-Cola. These
companies are among the members of USAfrica, the corporate lobby for NAFTA
It is no accident that oil companies are so prominent among the NAFTA for
Africa supporters. The legislation would further open up African countries
to exploitation by multinational resource corporations, and prevent
countries from taking steps to control the drilling, mining, harvesting
and use of resources within their own borders.
The basic structure of the Africa trade bill is to condition existing and
potentially some minor new aid and trade benefits on African countries
opening their economies to foreign investment and adopting the
recessionary "structural adjustment" policies of the International
Monetary Fund (IMF). The bill's conditionalities include: compliance with
programs of and obligations to the IMF, joining the World Trade
Organization, removing restrictions on foreign investment, minimizing
government market interventions, and privatizing many government
The bill also instructs the President to develop a plan for a free trade
agreement with Africa.
Last year, most African governments were pressured by the Clinton
administration into expressing their support for the bill, though
privately many African officials are much more critical.
But dozens of African labor, consumer, environmental, development, health
and human rights groups were not so intimidated. "We have seen from the
ground level the consequences of following IMF policy prescriptions," they
said in a statement. "These policies tend to undermine local business,
drive up unemployment, damage the environment, harm consumers, undermine
public health and increase poverty. We categorically reject any effort to
impose such policies on African countries."
The debate this year over the African trade bill will be different than
last year in at least one critical respect: This year, a genuine
pro-Africa bill will be instilled into the debate.
Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr. -- who last year abandoned his support
for the NAFTA for Africa bill after he learned how harmful it would be,
and began calling the legislation the Africa Recolonization Act -- is set
to introduce the African HOPE (Human Rights, Opportunity, Partnership and
The African HOPE Act will address the absolute priority issue for African
development -- debt relief. Huge debt servicing obligations now drain
African countries' financial resources and prevent them from investing in
basic health care, education or the infrastructure needed as the
foundation for a strong economy. The African HOPE Act will lift some of
the unbearable burden on African countries by canceling the debt owed by
African countries to the U.S. government and taking steps to relieve the
debt burden to multilateral lending agencies and private lenders.
The African HOPE Act will also require companies doing business in Africa
and wishing to export to the United States to adhere to environmental,
worker safety and labor rights standards similar to those required of
companies operating in the United States. These companies will also be
required to pay a living wage to employees in Africa. The act also will
ensure that aid and development money is used for basic social services
and strengthening and diversifying Africa's economic production capacity
(for instance in the processing of African natural resources and
manufacturing). And it will block the U.S. government from challenging
African government efforts to provide AIDS drugs and other essential
medicines to their people at affordable prices.
The African HOPE Act may not be the approach to satisfy African "friends"
like Exxon and Texaco, but it does have the advantage of speaking to the
genuine needs of Africa, rather than of the multinational corporations
which want to etch in stone their right to exploit African rich resource
Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime
Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based
Multinational Monitor, and co-director of Essential Action, a corporate
accountability group working on debt and trade issues.
(c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman
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