By Austin R. Cooper, Jr.
President Donald Trump announced on the morning of March 13 that he was replacing Rex Tillerson as his Secretary of State and intends to nominate CIA Director Mike Pompeo to the top U.S. diplomatic position. The decision was made during Tillerson’s first diplomatic trip to Africa, where he traveled to Ethiopia, Chad, Kenya, Djibouti and Nigeria. He cut short his trip to Africa by a day under the pretense that his presence was urgently needed in Washington due to unfolding developments pertaining to North Korea.
Trade and security were among the top agenda items raised during Secretary Tillerson’s time on the continent. Improving relations with African countries was also a high priority on the agenda in Africa. However, during his visit, it did not take long for President Trump’s alleged derogatory remarks about African nations to be raised. For example, at a press conference with the African Union Commission’s Chairman Moussa Faki in Addis Ababa, a journalist asked both men whether the U.S. should apologize for the remark. The reporter said the remarks, which the President has denied saying, is “something that Africa’s still digesting.”
Chairman Faki took the high road, stating that his meeting with Mr. Tillerson, focused on areas of cooperation, including the possibility of the U.S. providing financial support for an African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia. Here at IGD, we stand ready to work with the new U.S. Secretary of State to advance peace and prosperity across the African continent.
Fostering greater trade and investment are legislative priorities for IGD. IGD recently went on record encouraging swift passage by the U.S. Senate of the African Growth & Opportunity Act (AGOA) and Millennium Challenge Act (MCA) Modernization Act. The legislation passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a unanimous voice vote on January 17, 2018. Dr. Mima Nedelcovych, IGD President & CEO, sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer and Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker.
AGOA was first passed into law on May 18, 2000, and signed into law by President George W. Bush. The legislation was subsequently renewed through 2025 by the 114th Congress in 2015 and signed into law by President Barack Obama. The primary purpose of AGOA was to establish a new trade law and investment policy for sub-Saharan, along with expanding trade benefits to the Caribbean Basin.
The AGOA and MCA Modernization Act serves as an extension of AGOA, promoting policies that foster trade and cooperation, while also assisting eligible AGOA partners. In addition, the legislation seeks to create a website which will detail benefits of the program and provide the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) with greater flexibility to facilitate trade by permitting up to two compacts with one country. The proposed Act will strengthen the accountability of the MCC by making the criteria for reporting requirements stronger. Embassies in MCC-eligible countries will also be encouraged to promote export opportunities to the United States.
Both AGOA and the MCC have proven track records of spurring economic development across the continent of Africa. By quickly passing this legislation and sending it to the President’s desk for signature into law, the United States can expand existing programs and further position ourselves as global leaders of development, strengthen our own domestic job market and economy, while simultaneously protecting our national security interests.
Without a doubt, it remains in the United States’ interest to strengthen economic relationships with African governments as well as the private sector in Africa. This legislation aims to strengthen key U.S.-Africa trade and economic ties in that effort. Again, IGD urges prompt action on the bill in the Senate and signature into law by President Trump.
Austin R. Cooper, Jr., is the Director of Government Relations for the Initiative for Global Development and President at Cooper Strategic Affairs, Inc.