- The Washington Times - Monday, June 21, 2004

The Bush administration is eager to sign a bill that would extend a program of trade preferences for Africa but is worried that “political games” in the Senate could derail it.

The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) supports an estimated 150,000 jobs in some of the world’s poorest nations by allowing duty- and quota-free exports — mostly clothing — to the United States.

But a key provision expires in September and the entire act is scheduled to run out in 2008, creating uncertainty for foreign companies that order products and make investments around the world.

Two senior administration officials last week said President Bush wants the legislation extended.

“He is determined to work with the Senate to get this important agreement extended beyond 2008,” National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said Thursday during a speech in Washington.

The House last week unanimously approved a bill that would extend the legislation through 2015, and several senators quickly introduced an identical measure.

But Senate and administration officials are worried that lawmakers will try to attach a series of amendments, slowing or derailing it during the brief time before summer recess and then national elections.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick said Thursday that some Democrats want to “have an endless process of amendments, which would be a real tragedy for Africa at a time that we have good bipartisan support for this bill.”

Lawmakers considered attaching some of the measures to a recently approved corporate-tax bill. The tax package was delayed by weeks as Republicans and Democrats argued over which amendments to consider.

While there is no official list, Senate staff said possible AGOA amendments include legislation that would punish China for currency manipulation, reactivate a program to retaliate against countries that block U.S. goods from their markets, and create special trade benefits for Haiti.

While the Africa legislation is not being challenged, some of the potential amendments are at issue.

AGOA “is not a piece of legislation that they should be playing political games with,” Mr. Zoellick said.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and a bill sponsor, had hoped the bill would be approved by unanimous consent, a procedure that allows quick action but that can be disrupted by a single senator.

Congress originally passed AGOA legislation in 2000 and two years later extended it through 2008. The legislation allows 37 nations to qualify for trade benefits.

Petroleum products are the top U.S. import from AGOA nations; clothing is No. 2. Sub-Saharan Africa exported more than $1.2 billion in apparel under AGOA in 2003, an almost 50 percent rise from 2002.

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