- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 29, 1999

Africa's wish

African ambassadors share one hope for the year 2000 that Congress will finally pass a major trade bill for Africa that has been lingering on Capitol Hill for four years.

Their concern is that it be the right bill.

Mauritian Ambassador Chitmansing Jesseramsing, speaking for the African diplomatic corps, said the ambassadors are anxiously awaiting a congressional conference committee to begin work on reconciling the differences between the House and Senate versions of the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

The African ambassadors prefer the House version, which would lift tariffs and quotas on imports into the United States of African-made textiles.

The Senate version would require African nations to export garments made with U.S. cloth. The ambassadors believe the Senate bill would make Africa little more than a continental sweatshop.

"We're going into the next millennium. We need a bill that has meaning," Mr. Jesseramsing said yesterday. "It cannot be only American fabric."

He believes the Senate version was passed in deference to Southern senators who believe the House bill would harm the domestic textile industry in their states.

"The Senate bill is a nonstarter," Mr. Jesseramsing said. "Africans would wind up subsidizing American industry instead of the other way around."

Both versions of the bill would apply to the 48 nations of subSaharan Africa. The bills would also require African nations to adopt democracy and free markets in exchange for a repeal of U.S. quotas and tariffs.

In his own 800-square-mile Indian Ocean island nation, the U.S. tariffs are as high as 22 percent, Mr. Jesseramsing said.

As they wait for the conference committee to convene on Jan. 28, the African ambassadors are proud of the progress they have made so far. Just getting the bill through the Senate, where it died last year, was an accomplishment, Mr. Jesseramsing said.

They have an ally in the White House, where President Clinton has pressed for passage of the House version.

Rosa Whitaker, assistant U.S. trade representative for Africa, called the progress of the bill a "milestone."

"There is broad recognition that this giant step in U.S.-Africa relations is due, in no small part, to your tireless, effective and tenacious work," she said in a letter to Mr. Jesseramsing.

The ambassador said he believes it is a "small step" for the United States to lift the trade barriers but a "giant step for Africans to get their toes in the U.S. market."

Albright gets message

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright has gotten the message from American Muslims upset by State Department warnings that appeared to link terrorism with the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

As Embassy Row reported Monday, the American Muslim Council complained to Mrs. Albright about State Department travel warnings that mentioned Ramadan and threats to Americans traveling abroad.

Aly R. Abuzaakouk, the council's executive director, told the Associated Press the latest advisories were "very positive in delinking the issue of terrorism from faith."

He quoted Mrs. Albright as telling him, " 'Your views are being heard.' "

She also promised that the department would try to hire more American Muslims.

Mr. Abuzaakouk wrote Mrs. Albright last week to alert her to the problem.

He complained that an advisory issued earlier this month made the "unfortunate and unnecessary" linkage of terrorist threats and Ramadan.

"For American Muslims, as for Muslims the world over," he wrote, "Ramadan is a time of spiritual renewal, the most sacred month of the year.

"Terrorism has no place in Islam or any religion and anyone, of any faith, who seeks to justify attacks on civilians in the name of religion should be universally condemned."

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