July 20, 2005

Rice presses trade commitment on Africa trip

By Alistair Thomson

DAKAR (Reuters) - Condoleezza Rice used her first trip to
Africa as Secretary of State on Wednesday to show top-level
commitment to a U.S. preferential trade deal for the world's
poorest continent.

On a trip set to be dominated by efforts to stem bloodshed
in the Middle East and Sudan's Darfur region, Rice said
Washington's African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA)
benefited everyone.

"AGOA is making a difference in people's lives along with
development assistance, good governance and overseas foreign
direct investment," Rice told a news conference, shortly before
leaving the Senegalese capital Dakar for Sudan.

Earlier, Rice -- who had previously visited Africa as
President Bush's national security adviser -- told a meeting
with AGDA's 37 eligible countries in Dakar that development
assistance could be catalytic.

"But it alone will never enable people to lift themselves
out of poverty. Open markets that allow individuals to realize
the benefits of their own hard work are essential," she said.

"AGOA benefits everyone. Africa businesses create more,
better-paying jobs. And American consumers receive more goods
at lower prices -- products like sorbet from South Africa,
woodcarvings from Tanzania, and tuna from right here in


AGOA's critics say the program primarily provides cheap,
tariff-free fuel to U.S. consumers. Out of more than $26
billion worth of AGOA exports in 2004, all but $3.5 billion
were oil-related.

But Rice referred to projects announced this week to
increase the share of non-oil AGOA exports, including a $200
million, five-year African Global Competitiveness Initiative.

She said the initiative would involve setting up a fourth
"trade hub" office in Dakar to add to those already established
in Botswana, Ghana and Kenya.

The Dakar meeting focused on broadening the scope of AGOA,
under which only a tiny minority of the 6,000 eligible products
have been exported in any significant quantity.

It also gave U.S. trade officials a chance to talk to their
African counterparts about commitments made by the Group of
Eight (G8) top industrialized nations earlier in July to end
agricultural subsidies.

The G8 announcement was met with skepticism in much of
Africa as there was no timetable.

Many say the subsidies keep U.S. farmers in business while
skewing world markets and driving down or even wiping out
earnings of poor Africans.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns made clear any
broad abolition of subsidies to U.S. farmers would have to wait
until the conclusion of World Trade Organization (WTO) talks.

A WTO meeting in Hong Kong in December is meant to produce
a more precise consensus on achieving free global trade under
the Doha round of negotiations, due to end by late 2006.

"Everyone recognizes that we can't afford to fail," U.S.
Assistant Trade Representative for Africa Florizelle Liser told
Reuters in an interview on Wednesday.

"This is not our last chance, but it is our one big