THE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON : African leaders to press for renewal of U.S. trade law

African leaders will gather in Washington next week for the first Summit of African Leaders under the African Growth and Opportunity Act and topping discussions with U.S. officials will be renewal of AGOA, the U.S. law that has expanded trade opportunities for Mauritius and other sub- Saharan African opportunities since 2000.
While African leaders are seeking at least a 15 year renewal along with other modifications, Americans have undertaken a comprehensive review of the law, to determine what works well and what should be changed.
Although no specifics have yet emerged, as it will be up to Congress to ultimately decide on the specifics of the law in the months ahead, U.S. leaders have signaled their support for an extension but also a desire to create a long-term trade framework with Africa that relies less on the types of trade preferences contained in AGOA.
The White House will host some 50 African leaders at the summit from Aug.4-6. President Obama has stated his support for a renewal, and last week, U.S. officials began speaking publicly about their expectations for AGOA renewal, and Congress held two hearings.

AGOA expires in September, 2015, and all those involved agree that an early renewal before expiration is important to prevent trade disruptions and keep investor confidence in Africa strong, especially in the textile sector.

Lawmakers are likely to demand changes in the program that will make it more reciprocal so that American companies can enjoy the same open access to African markets that African companies are given under AGOA.

They are also likely to press for changes, also sought by African leaders, that would broaden the range of products covered by duty-free and quota-free status, and make it easier for producers to rely in a greater variety of sources in their manufacturing operations.

Top priorities for Mauritius in the renewal discussion include approval of an AGOA extension far before the law's expiration, and extension of the Third Country Fabric provision. Mauritius is also seeking changes in the rules of origin rules that would allow for the export of canned tuna from Mauritius, although success of this is less certain.

Officials in Washington say that although great progress has been made in expanding trade with Africa, the total volume of this trade remains small. Despite rapid growth in many area of Sub-Saharan Africa, U.S. goods account for only 1.5 percent of total U.S. exports to Africa. Similarity, sub-Saharan exports to the United States made up less than 2 percent of total U.S. imports.
in addition, they note that only a handful of countries - including Mauritius for textiles and those producing oil like Nigeria and Angola -  account for these exports, so the utilization of AGOA remains uneven among the 39 eligible countries.

 Appearing before the Senate Finance Committee last week, Michael Froman, the U.S. trade Representative, said that clearly "more can be done," and he called for "a new compact" to be developed. Tariff preferences "aren't enough to spur change," as African countries face many other challenges such as poor infrastructure and lack of skilled labor.

"For AGOA to reach its full potential, it must be linked to a broader and coordinated trade and development development strategy," Froman said. "Although the administration remains fully committed to an AGOA renewal, we need to begin working with our African partners to develop a vision of a trade relationship that goes beyond the one-way preferences."

He said AGOA should encourage African countries to integrate their economies. This would set the stage for more open regional trade such as establishment of a Continental Free Trade Area in Africa by 2017. Mauritius favors such an accord, as it would facilitate trade with 54 African states.

At the same hearing, Sen, Orrin Hatch, the top Republican Democratic-controlled Finance Committee, said African countries should adopt policies that promote, not inhibit, U.S. investment, and that those that fall to live up to their commitments be dropped from AGOA. He expressed concern over an emerging policy on South Africa that erodes intellectual property protections, which is a concern of many American businesses.

On the other hand, he said a number of African countries "are moving in a more positive direction," and he cited Mauritius and Ghana.

Hatch also questioned whether a long extension of AGOA was appropriate in the absence of a "broad discussion of the role of our trade preference programs more generally, and how expanding AGOA benefits might affect other developing countries."

This discussion is still very fluid, and it's not clear yet what kind of AGOA renewal law will emerge from Congress. Although there's strong support for renewal, it appears that the long term future of such trade preferences is not assured.

The United States never intended AGOA to be a permanent program, but rather to serve as a platform to help jump start African economies and make them more globally competitive. Herein lies a warning to the African leaders as they meet next week in Washington:  they might get 15 more years of AGOA benefits, but they should start preparing now for an economic future without them.

Four years after suspension, Madagascar back in AGOA
In what should be good news for the Mauritian textile industry, Madagascar is again able to trade with the United States under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA)  trade preference program.
Madagascar was expelled from the program in 2010, a year after a coup d'état sent the country into political and economic turmoil, and the U.S. ruled that the country no longer met AGOA eligibility.
On June 26, President Obama signed a proclamation stating that the island would be welcomed back into the program "based on actions taken by the government of Madagascar."
The State Department cited the successful elections held in 2013 that led to formation of Madagascar's first democratic government since the 2009 coup.
Since these elections, the U.S. government has moved to normalize relations with Madagascar,  lifted restrictions on direct assistance to the Malgasy government, and invited President Hery Rajaonarimampiaina to attend the U.S.-Africa Leader's Summit to be held in Washington next week.
"We are pleased that Madagascar has returned to the family of AGOA nations and we are hopeful that Madagascar will take advantage of AGOA's potential to create employment, expand bilateral trade and contribute to economic well-being, security and health of its people," said Michael Froman, the U.S. Trade Representative.
The suspension of benefits has eliminated 50,000 jobs on the island over the past four years, largely by the closure of textile factories no longer able to export under AGOA benefits, according to Chatham House, a U.K-based think tank. Many of these companies were producing clothing for such big U.S. retail giants as Wal-Mart and Bloomingdales, and they left to seek new markets.
This was a big jolt to Madagascar, which in 2008 had become the second largest beneficiary of AGOA, trailing Lesotho, and was one of the world's fastest growing economies.
Many Mauritian companies moved operations there to take advantage of lower labor costs and export apparel under AGOA. Out of the total exports to the U.S. from Madagascar before the suspension of benefits, Mauritian companies accounted for 15-20 percent, according to a report by the Mauritius Export Association.
Since withdrawal of benefits, however, many Mauritian-owned export units have either closed down or retooled their markets toward Europe. Also losing an important market  were regional suppliers to the Malgasy textile industry, including those in Mauritius, South Africa and Lesotho.
It remains to be seen whether Mauritian textile companies will reopen their closed operations or redirect production that has since moved elsewhere back to the U.S. market.
In a related development, the U.S. government also announced the withdrawal of Swaziland from the AGOA program, citing problems with worker rights.

Chagossians seek a return to homeland and a shot at (non) World Cup football
An enthusiastic team of football-playing Chagossians living in London has used this year's World Cup to raise money and publicize the plight of the Chagossian people who were forcibly removed from Diego Garcia in 1966 to make way for a U.S. military base.
Using a crowd-sourcing site on the Internet, The Chagossian Islands Football Team with the help of a few supporters in Washington, D.C. has collected more than US $7,000.
The fundraising campaign was linked to the schedule of the games of World Cup in Brazil, which ended on July 13. The goal way to raise $25,000 for the team's training and expenses, while also raising global awareness and support for the Chagossian's struggle to return to their homeland.
Although the group fell short of the fundraising goal, half the money raised will be used to buy team uniforms, coaching, training, travel expenses and field rental. The remaining  will go to the Chagos Refugee Group, which is working to win the right of return to the islands and to improve the living conditions, education and employment of those living in exile in Mauritius, the U.K.and elsewhere.
"The idea is to turn the World Cup into a tool for justice," said David Vine, associate professor of anthropology at American University in Washington, D.C., who authored a book about the Chagos controversy, Island of Shame: the Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia. Vine helped organize the fundraising campaign.
The Chagos team was not eligible to play in the World Cup, according to the fundraising website, because the islands are not recognized as a nation.
Instead, the team hopes to train and improve its skills to compete in the next Non-FIFA World Cup which is held at an alternate location from the sanctioned FIFA Event. This year, while FIFA competed in Brazil, the non-FIFA event was held in Sweden.
Non-FIFA teams represent autonomous, dependent or state-less countries or disputed territories that are not recognized as full FIFA members. These include teams from Tibet, Greenland, Abkhazia and South Ossestia (separatist regions formally part of Georgia), and Dafur, the strife-torn area of Sudan. Earlier this year, the Chagos team played a friendly match outside London with another state-less team from the Principality of Sealand, an abandoned World War II fort in the North Sea settled by a former Pirate Radio DJ who claims it as a sovereign state.
The Chagos team is comprised mostly of diaspora from the Chagos islands whose parents and grandparents were exiled by the British to make way for the U.S.naval base. The Chagossians have fought in U.K. court for their right to return, but despite some legal successes, superpower politics, tight budgets and security issues have blocked their return.  More recently, the British government declared much of the waters around the islands a marine park, which has  further complicated the return efforts.
The Chagos team is based in Crawley, a London suburb, where many settled after the British granted Chagossians the right to have British passports in 2002. The team is one of just a few ways in which the Chagossians can represent their homeland and create semblance of a national identity. 
"They are a very talented lot, mostly 18-year-olds, some in college while a lot work at Gatwick airport, where they work shifts, which makes regular training difficult," Paul Watson, a football journalist and amateur footballer, said in an interview last year on the BBC when the joined the team to help coach.
But this is more than about football, he said. " It is about raising awareness of the (story of the)  Chagossians. So few people have heard about it."

A story of ebony trees and tortoises on Ile aux Aigrettes
An interesting article that just appeared in Scientific American, a widely respected Science journal, says that the world is heading for another wave of mass extinction of its plants and animals, driven largely by consumption of fossil fuels.
David Biello, the article's author, writes that during the first five mass extinctions in earth's history, 75 percent of the planet's life died out. The sixth extinction may now be starting, he said, "and the apocalypse this time is us."
But there is still time to avoid the calamity, Biello said, and one of the solutions is to employ aggressive conservation measures that have worked well in places like Mauritius.
That method is called "re-wilding" and involves the reintroduction of species that were once present in an ecosystem and have since disappeared. "In extreme cases, it could bring in new animals to fill the role of those that have gone extinct," he wrote in the article, "Fact or Fiction:The Sixth Mass Extinction Can Be Stopped."
 He cited the example of a project on the Ile aux Aigrettes. The first Europeans on Mauritius not only killed off the Dodo bird, but also exterminated the giant skinks and tortoises on Ile aux Aigrettes and chopped down the ebony trees for firewood.
In 1965, the island was declared a nature reserve and efforts began to restore the island's ecosystem and rebuild the ebony forest, which failed to recover despite the end of logging. The reason was that the island had lost the tortoise population that ate the ebony's fruits and dispersed its seeds. Giant Aldabra tortoises were moved there from the Seychelles in 2000. By 2009, 19 tortoises roamed the island, eating the ebony tree's tasty oval fruits and dispersing the seeds, thus helping to nurture 500 dense patches of ebony seedlings.

In this case, he writes, "re-wilding works."

As a result of this success, similar projects are being considered in Madagascar and the Caribbean islands.