AGOA Enhancement Act of 2015

Floor Speech

Date: Sept. 7, 2016
Location: Washington, DC
Issues: Foreign Affairs


Mr. McDERMOTT. Mr. Speaker, it is kind of awesome to become a myth in your own time. I was not a Peace Corps volunteer. I was in Africa in 1961 before the Peace Corps ever existed. When we were in Ghana in 1961, the first Peace Corps volunteers arrived, so I was there when it all started.

I also want to remind you--when you know the history of something, it is kind of interesting to listen to it--this started in 1995. We put a bill in and, actually, Speaker Gingrich got it out of the House. It passed the House in 2000. We couldn't get it through the Senate. It had to come back under Mr. Bush. Then we finally got it through the House and the Senate, and it became law.

It has been an issue that everyone recognizes something needs to be done. As I look at this bill today, I read some of the language that the President is directed to provide training for business and government trade officials, provide capacity building for entrepreneurs and trade associations, and promote diversification of African products.

Now, I don't know how many bills I have seen that in. What is missing here, unfortunately, in my view--I am going to support the bill, and the ideas of it are great, but what has been missing ever since 1995 or 2000 has been a commitment of the resources to actually help the Africans figure out how to use our system.

I can give you one example. There are shrimp all over the coastline. Now, why don't shrimp from Africa come into the United States? Because they can't pass the phytosanitary rules of our government. We won't let food come into this country that we think will be problematic for our people. So if we are going to actually help the Africans--we tried several times to get the Department of Agriculture to base people in some of the places along the coast, Senegal and some other places, in order to give them the instructions necessary to be able to bring those products in. What I hope will happen--and Charlie Rangel and I are going to leave the scene, and we did everything we could during the time we were here--for the rest of you, you have got to put some money in, put some money down on the ground.

I had a project in one of the bills. Lions are a huge issue in Africa. If you want to have lions, and you want to have people go out and hunt them, well, if you kill a lion, it is only worth $800. But if you leave a lion there for tourism purposes, it is worth $50,000. So we have encouraged these countries to get the poachers to become game wardens and the women to run B&Bs out there, so we would have tourism which would bring foreign exchange into Africa to give them the ability to invest and do more.

An epidemic of tuberculosis occurred in the African lions. There were only two people in all of Africa who had ever dealt with a big game animal, so we thought, let's start a school; we will start a veterinary school. We couldn't get the money. There are a lot of things that we could do with very small amounts of money in terms of helping them develop the capacity because the bill is filled with this capacity building. Give them the opportunity to develop capacity.

But sometimes it takes a small investment on our part, and that is really what I hope will come. Maybe the bill will pass and then we can get a little bit of money into the Foreign Operations appropriations act and use it for that kind of program.

I think this is a work in progress. It won't be done when I leave and Charlie leaves. I remember the first meeting Charlie and I had with the ambassadors from all of Africa. Nobody thought that it would ever happen. So we called them all up and said: Do you want to trade or do you want aid?

They said: We want trade.

We said: Okay. Come in here, in the office, and sign a paper.

We got them to sign a paper where they all asked the President of the United States to give them a trade act. That is the only time it has ever occurred around here that I know of.

So it has been there, and it has gradually developed, but more slowly than it could have. I hope that we will pass it and the message will get to the appropriators that a little bit of money could make this go a long way.