In March of 1998 President Clinton toured Africa and raised the hopes of millions of Africans who have long sought their place at the table in the booming world economy. The African Growth and Opportunity Act (H.R. 434) is America's chance to fulfill the promises made to the people of sub-Saharan Africa.
H.R. 434 is expected to come to a vote in the House soon and to gain easy passage. The comments in favor of the bill by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott are encouraging and appreciated. But the success of the bill in the Senate is not yet ensured.
Its opponents point out, rightly, that the bill will not solve all of Africa's problems. It embraces the Clinton administration's program for debt relief, for example, but will not cancel all of Africa's estimated $230 billion in foreign debt.
The bill will, however, give the nations of Africa a chance to become partners in the global economy. The defeat of the legislation would, by contrast, condemn large parts of Africa to continued poverty and despair.
In substance, the bill will bring prosperity by breaking down trade barriers that block the flow of goods and services between the United States and the nations of sub-Saharan Africa. It will provide sorely needed debt relief and create incentives for development that will generate economic growth.
The bill will foster peace and democracy. Nations that provide an opportunity for their citizens to enjoy a reasonable standard of living are far more likely to be governed by stable, democratic governments than are nations battling hunger and unemployment.
The bill also will facilitate $650 million of new U.S. investment and allow the nations of Africa to compete with emerging economies around the world for U.S. capital. This will mean growth for the American economy and job opportunities for the people of Africa.
Africa has no time to lose. The global economy is fast leaving our continent behind, and we cannot wait another year, or two or 10 for a chance to take our place at the table.
The writer is Liberia's ambassador to the United States.