The Supporters and Opponents of the NAFTA for Africa Bill (H.R. 434)
The “African Growth and Opportunity Act,” dubbed “NAFTA for Africa” by Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., has been pushed for two years by a coalition of U.S.-based oil and other multinational corporations. Community, religious, development, labor environmental and other public interest groups in Africa and the U.S., on the other hand, have attacked the legislation as undermining African interests in sovereign, equitable development in order to promote U.S. corporate control of African economics and natural resources. In 1998, the measure (H.R. 1434) narrowly passed the House (233-186) and ultimately died in the Senate. The same bill was reintroduced in 1999 as H.R. 434. Despite strong pressure from the Clinton Administration and congressional champions in the House and a massive corporate lobbying campaign, supporters of AGOA were unable to increase support for this controversial measure, which was passed with 234 votes in June 1999. Indeed, the measure lost support among the Congressional Black Caucus, with three prominent members Reps. Maxine Waters, John Lewis and Cynthia McKinney withdrawing previous support and voting against AGOA in 1999. Thanks to a September 1999 deal between House and Senate leaders, the House-passed version of AGOA will be paired with the Senate version of the equally controversial CBI NAFTA expansion. The Senate could face a vote on the package in early October 1999.
A coalition of U.S.-based multinational corporations: Literally named the African Growth and Opportunity Act Coalition, Inc.,” it includes companies with terrible records in Africa and in the U.S,. such as Chevron, Texaco, Mobil, Caterpillar, and the American International Group among others. AIG is an insurance company that singlehandedly crafted a bill to slash U.S. aid to Zimbabwe in protest of its regulations requiring foreign firms to form joint ventures with local firms. The coalition is thick with oil companies eager for more access to Africa’s resources. Africa Inc.’s advisory board includes the likes of Chester Crocker, the Reagan Administration architect of the “constructive engagement” policy with the South African Apartheid regime.
Washington-based African Ambassadors: The African Ambassadorial corps stationed in D.C. has been prominently featured in press and other events in support of the bill. After former South African President Nelson Mandela publicly opposed the bill at a joint press conference during President Clinton=s $43 million tour of Africa in 1998, then-South Africa Ambassador Sonn sent a letter to Congress on his own behalf in support of the bill. Mandela never recanted his pronouncement that the “NAFTA for Africa” bill: “is not acceptable.”
The Clinton Administration: High-level Clinton Administration Trade and State Department representatives acknowledge that imposing NAFTA-style
Opponents African civil society and labor groups: Organizations representing African citizens — from South Africa’s massive COSATU labor union federation to pan-African church groups, to groups of African academics — all oppose the bill. For instance, the organization COASAD, representing over 150 groups across Africa including economic development, farmers’, women=s and anti-hunger groups, vigorously oppose the bill and joined other major African NGOs in writing Congress this year demanding the bill’s rejection. A coalition of 212 women and women’s advocacy groups comprising the Women in Law Development in Africa (WiLDAF) have called on African Heads of State and U.S. Senators to oppose H.R. 434 as it is currently drafted. ICFTU-AFRO (the Africa Secretariat of the International Conference of Free Trade Unions) opposes the bill. The Mauritius Labor Congress, along with 10 other African unions, also announced its opposition. The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions passed a resolution last year stating, “we believe that the shift from aid to trade is an attempt to undermine the development of our economies. This is particularly so given that this shift is accompanied by conditionalities….[that] will only further weaken our economies and destroy the nascent industrial base that has been created.”
Supporters investment deregulation and enforcing IMF requirements on African countries will be painful in the short term. Yet they claim this approach — which includes cracking open Africa further for foreign corporations, and imposing “austerity” measures that force African countries to cut corporate taxes and slash spending on domestic health care and education — is best for Africa in the long term. Numerous attempts — including amendments proposed by Reps. Maxine Waters, Jesse Jackson, Jr., Barbara Lee, and others — to get the Administration to drop the harshest aspects of the bill have failed because these are the very provisions the Administration and the GOP sponsors of the bill support.
U.S.-based Africa Advocacy organizations and religious leaders: Last year, TransAfrica sent a letter to Congress opposing the Act entitled “Bill Seen as Threat to Countries’ Sovereignty” which was signed by Randall Robinson of TransAfrica, Prof. Ron Walters, Reverend Joseph Lowery, Dr. Mary Frances Berry, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists president Bill Lucy, the Honorable Richard Hatcher, Robert Guillaume, Prof. Cornel West, and Walter Mosely, among others. The Association of Concerned Africa Scholars, the Organization Us, and local NAACP chapters across the U.S. also oppose. Over 75 prominent religious leaders, including the Chair of the National Black Presbyterian Caucus, wrote to Congress opposing the bill.
U.S.-based labor, anti-hunger,environmental, development, and other citizens groups: The AFL-CIO’s national board passed a resolution opposing the bill as an extension of the failed NAFTA model. AGOA is opposed by the Teamsters, UAW and other major U.S. unions. In addition, 45 HIV/AIDS community groups signed a letter to Congress opposing H.R. 434 for, among other things, promoting policies that undercut African efforts to address its AIDS crisis. Other U.S. citizens groups also oppose the bill including the the United Methodists Board of Church and Society, the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, Public Citizen, 50 Years is Enough, NETWORK, Results, the national trade network Citizens Trade Campaign and numerous religious groups.
Prominent Members of the Congressional Black Caucus: The bill lost support among the CBC in 1999: Prominent opponents include Rep. Maxine Waters, CBC Chair James Clyburn and Reps. John Lewis, Jesse Jackson Jr., John Conyers, Cynthia McKinney and Bobby Rush.
Members of the House Democratic Leadership: The minority whip, Rep. David Bonior (MI) and the Democratic Caucus Chairman Rep. Martin Frost (TX) both supported a competing measure (H.R. 772, HOPE for Africa), with Bonior voting against AGOA (and Frost abstaining) in 1999.