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From meisenscher@igc.org Wed Mar 8 12:41:12 2000 Date: Tue, 7 Mar 2000 22:08:12 -0600 (CST)
From: Michael Eisenscher <meisenscher@igc.org>
Subject: Unite, the AFL-CIO & Africa Trade
Article: 90651
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
X-UIDL: c72b767ad5e68139fd216d34d6f62e44

Don’t Punish Africa

By Thomas L Friedman, New York Times, 7 March 2000

There is a travesty brewing in Congress that, if allowed to continue, will be a source of shame for all Americans. It will certainly be an ugly stain on the U.S. labor movement, particularly the apparel union and the A.F.L.-C.I.O.—a stain that will highlight all the unions’ phony-baloney assertions in Seattle that they just want to improve worker rights around the world and help the poor.

This controversy has to do with a stalled trade bill called The African Growth and Opportunity Act. And the bottom line is this: At a time when Africa is ravaged by AIDS, at a time when 290 million Africans—more than the entire population of the U.S.—are living on a dollar a day, the main U.S. textile union, UNITE!; the main textile manufacturers’ lobby, ATMI; and the lawmakers who bow to both of them are blocking a bill that would allow Africans to export clothing to America duty free—instead of with the current 17 percent import tax.

Why the opposition? Because Africa might increase its share of U.S. textile and apparel imports from its current level of 0.8 percent! Shame on the people blocking this bill. Shame on them.

Some 85 percent of the garments sold in the U.S. today are already sewn abroad. Honduras, little Honduras, already exports seven times more textiles and apparel to the U.S. than all 48 nations of sub-Saharan Africa combined.

With our minimum wages, we can’t produce jeans that retail for $16 and we don’t want to. North Carolina’s textile industry has already become highly automated and has moved away from low-value goods to high-value, high-tech fabrics. Much of the unionized labor force sewing clothes in the U.S. is in large cities and comprises new immigrants, many not citizens, since most Americans don’t want these jobs.

If Africa were given duty-free access to our market, sophisticated textile plants in North Carolina wouldn’t move to Madagascar. China would be the big loser, because Africans have the same skills to knit cashmere sweaters cheaply as people in China, and if Africa were given a 17 percent import tax advantage in shipping to the U.S., manufacturers would move their production from low-wage China to low-wage Africa. Which is why a study by the U.S. International Trade Commission concluded that the impact of quota removal [for African imports] on U.S. producers and U.S. workers would be negligible.

So why do the unions still oppose it? Sheer knee-jerk protectionism—even though the bill has tough measures to protect against any surge in imports from Africa, and restricts free-trade status to African countries moving toward democracy, economic reform and real worker protection.

No matter. Right now the only version of the bill the textile makers would permit is one that says Africa can only import duty-free into the U.S. if it first buys all the fabric, thread and yarn from U.S. factories, then ships it to Africa to be sewn, and then ships it back to the U.S. to be sold—a costly obstacle course that would prevent any new investment in African factories. The real motto of U.S. trade unions is: We’re for more worker standards in Africa, not more work.

This is really bad. This bill isn’t a panacea for Africa, but it’s important. Throughout the history of industrialization, poor countries have started down the road of development by sewing clothes. It’s the one thing that poor people can do right away. It’s critical that this bill go through now because by 2005 all the quotas on textile imports into the U.S. will expire. It will be a free-for-all. Right now investors are deciding where to locate plants for 2005—whether to stick with China or branch out to Africa, Vietnam or Mexico. If Africa is shut out from these investment decisions, it will fall even further behind.

The Clintonites talk the talk of Africa and AIDS, but, sadly, they have been afraid to get tough with the unions on this textile issue. Why is AIDS spreading so quickly among young women in Africa? One reason is that women have so few jobs they have to sell themselves to men with AIDS. Apparel jobs largely employ women. They make a difference.

But this is of no interest to the A.F.L.-C.I.O. crowd. All they care about is that Africa not sell more than 0.8 percent of garments here. Shame on them for what they are doing, and shame on us if we let them.

From meisenscher@igc.org Sun Mar 12 12:29:41 2000
Date: Sat, 11 Mar 2000 23:27:10 -0600 (CST)
From: Michael Eisenscher <meisenscher@igc.org>
Subject: UNITE Responds on Africa Trade Bill
Article: 91021
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
X-UIDL: 84eac3a220bd88b9a9c096eaad5f406a

Letters to the New York Times editor

March 9, 2000

African Trade Bill Hurts U.S. Workers Related Articles

To the Editor: Re Don’t Punish Africa (column, March 7), about the Africa trade bill that is stalled in Congress: As Thomas L. Friedman recognizes, liberalizing United States trade with sub-Saharan Africa mainly means liberalizing trade in apparel. Therefore, United States apparel workers will bear the brunt of the costs of higher African exports, as they have for many other third-world trade initiatives. These workers are disproportionately black, Hispanic and female. Why hurt them further, especially when Mr. Friedman acknowledges that the bill is no panacea for Africa? Promoting African development is a worthwhile goal, but United States policies should distribute the domestic costs equitably. Foreign aid or, better, a venture capital program for African entrepreneurs would be financed by the entire tax base. Otherwise, Mr. Friedman would have us show less concern for American workers than for the African workers who would displace them.

KEVIN L. KEARNS President, U.S. Business and Industry Council Washington,

March 8, 2000 To the Editor: Thomas L. Friedman, in his March 7 column about the African growth and opportunity bill, ignores the fact that our position coincides with that of our sister unions in Africa. The South African Clothing and Textile Workers Union says the bill will not advance the interest of Africa’s poor. We opposed the bill because it does not require countries in sub-Saharan Africa to enforce internationally recognized core labor rights. We believe that respect for such rights is the only way to ensure that trade works for workers in all countries and to reverse the race to the bottom promoted by current trade policies. On the other hand, we supported an African trade bill introduced by Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. that would have provided debt relief, worker rights and duty-free, quota-free access to the United States market for clothing made of African cloth.


New York, March 7, 2000
The writer is president of Unite (Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees).