February 09,2000

Roth Statement at African Growth and Opportunity Act Press Conference

WASHINGTON -- At a press conference held today by the African Growth and Opportunity Act Coalition, Inc. (AGOA Coalition), Senate Finance Committee Chairman William V. Roth, Jr. (R-DE) delivered the following remarks. The AGOA Coalition is a broad-based coalition that has worked to build support for passage of the African Growth and Opportunity Act. This legislation was part of the Trade and Development Act of 1999 (H.R. 434), which Chairman Roth carried through the Senate in November 1999 by a vote of 76 to 19 . The bill is currently ready for conference, pending appointment of House conferees.

"Thank you for that kind introduction. And, thank you all for your support during the passage of the African Growth and Opportunity Act on the floor of the Senate this past fall. We couldn't have done it without you," Roth stated. "When I last spoke to many of you here, it was just prior to the Senate's consideration of the bill. Your support then made a real difference in the willingness of many of my colleagues to fight past the various obstacles we faced to get this bill done. It is not often that the Senate sees a three-week fight on the floor in order to get legislation passed.

"I am so pleased to be standing here before you today to tell you that we fought that fight and won. I have been a tireless advocate for trade throughout my career in public life and I feel fortunate to be Chairman of the Finance Committee where I can make a difference on legislation as important as this.

"When I am asked why I feel so strongly about trade and feel so strongly about this bill in particular, I make what I think is the simplest but strongest point in its support. This bill is about economic opportunity. I am firmly convinced that the most important thing that we as Americans have to offer our African partners is the opportunity to establish a foundation for economic growth and future prosperity.

"Frankly, the policy prescriptions of the past, which relied exclusively on foreign assistance or lending from the multilateral development banks have done little to address the fundamental economic needs of African countries. Indeed, despite the relatively higher incidence of poverty among Sub-Saharan countries, most of the resources and assistance from the development banks flowed to a limited number of countries in northern Africa.

"In the process, what lending that did flow simply created conditions that our African partners now face - high levels of debt and debt service payments without the economic base to provide for basic human needs, much less the debt owed in hard currency to foreign banks, foreign governments, and the development banks. The only route out of that situation depends on establishing a functioning market economy capable of harnessing the energy of the African people. That is precisely what the African Growth and Opportunity Act is designed to help do.

"The bill is not a panacea, but it is the first step toward building a stronger economic partnership between the United States and our African partners. The bill represents a concrete commitment to encourage African economies, rather than interposing obstacles to their trade. I am confident that we will find our way to conference, and we'll have a bill ready for the President's signature."