Neil Watkins's criticism of the African Growth and Opportunity Act reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the provisions of this historic legislation ["A Better Bill for Africa," letters, July 27]. While the act is a major first step in developing a new economic partnership between the United States and Africa, it is based on a well-tried commercial program, the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP).

The bill simply would extend this program to provide quota-free and duty-free access to the U.S. market to exports such as textiles and apparel from sub-Saharan Africa. This would place Africa on an equal footing with other regions of the world with which the United States has preferential programs, such as NAFTA.

To benefit from the Generalized System of Preferences program a beneficiary country must satisfy a number of conditions, including affording its workers internationally recognized rights. In addition to the GSP provisions, the version of the Africa bill passed by the House of Representatives on July 16 contains an amendment proposed by Rep. Sam Gejdenson (D-Conn.) emphasizing the need to respect workers' rights. Section 4 of the bill also states that the president must determine that a beneficiary country does not engage in gross violations of internationally recognized human rights. Participation in the program is voluntary, and the bill does not force African countries to comply with IMF-style conditions.

This is the first opportunity that the United States is providing for a long-forgotten continent to join the globalization of the world economy. As Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) aptly stated, "For years, the benefits of increased trade with the United States have been extended to nations in Eastern Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas. The only region of the world that has been left out of this international trading community has been the continent of Africa."

CHITMANSING JESSERAMSING

Ambassador

Embassy of the Republic of Mauritius

Washington