One of the administration’s goals is use trade as a means of improving workers’ rights and environmental standards across the globe. How do you get countries to comply? How will those standards be reflected in the new benchmarks for agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea?
One of the strongest means to achieve progress on improving worker rights and environmental standards is through free trade agreements. The provisions included in our free trade agreements with Peru, Panama, Colombia, and South Korea are the result of work with Congress and contain enforceable provisions requiring our partners to adopt and maintain the core principles of the International Labor Organization, comply with a number of multilateral environmental agreements, and address key environmental concerns. A key change in these FTAs is that the dispute settlement provisions apply to the labor and environment obligations in the same manner as they apply to commercial obligations thus strengthening our ability to enforce them.
What is your trade agenda with respect to African nations?
Expanded trade is an important catalyst that can help boost economic growth in African countries and lift people out of poverty. It is a priority of the Obama administration to promote trade policies, including technical assistance for capacity building, which will help African countries to integrate successfully into the global economy. Our trade preference programs assist African and other developing countries compete more effectively by providing preferential access to the $14 trillion U.S. market
What can be done to beef up programs under the African Growth and Opportunity Act?
The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) has significantly enhanced our trade with sub-Saharan Africa. More than 98% of products Africa exports to the United States enter duty-free under AGOA or other preference programs. AGOA has spawned jobs, investment, and economic growth in Africa and helped to diversify our trade with the continent. AGOA has also strengthened and diversified the relationship between small and minority-owned U.S. businesses and many African entrepreneurs – something which we hope to build on during this administration.
In August, a gathering of U.S. cabinet officials and African Ministers from AGOA-eligible countries, the private sector and civil society representatives, will meet at the 2009 AGOA Forum in Kenya to discuss ways we can improve African countries’ utilization of AGOA and their competitiveness.
What will you do to bolster trade in the Caribbean Basin?
We will continue to support CARICOM’s efforts to enhance economic development and regional integration. I attended the President’s meeting with CARICOM leaders at the Summit of the Americas. We had an excellent discussion—not only about trade, but other issues of common interest. We proposed a meeting of the Trade and Investment Council [the body responsible for monitoring trade and investment relations between the United States and CARICOM] in the second half of 2009 to discuss trade and investment matters and examine ways to expand trade.
In your role, what can you do to bring together African American entrepreneurs and Caribbean and African governments?
The AGOA Forum will encourage interaction among senior representatives from African and American businesses, civil society, and governments to foster closer economic ties, address challenges to bilateral relationships, and establish a way forward to expanding our trade and investment relationship. The administration also provides technical support to businesses in Africa, including through four US AID-managed regional trade hubs located in Botswana, Kenya, Ghana and Senegal, to help U.S. and African business realize trade and investment opportunities under AGOA.