The House Foreign Affairs Committee, including Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA), Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY), and Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Karen Bass (D-CA), joined forces to introduce legislation that will improve economic trade in Africa utilizing the Africa Growth and Opportunity and Millennium Challenge Acts.

The original African Growth and Opportunity Act (or AGOA) is a U.S. Trade Act enacted in May 2000. AGOA enhances access to the U.S. market for qualifying Sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries. In order to qualify for AGOA, countries have to be working to improve their rule of law, human rights and respect for labor standards. Although the act originally covered an eight-year time period until 2008, due to various amendments signed by both former Presidents George W. Bush and Obama, AGOA has been extended to 2025. The new amendments will update and strengthen the original act.

The amendments to AGOA will make information more readily available over the Internet to users in both Africa and the U.S. while encouraging policies that promote economic trade with Africa. They also provide technical assistance that allows participating countries of AGOA to utilize it to its full capacity.

The second part of this legislation will improve economic trade in Africa through updating the Millennium Challenge Act (or MCA). The MCA was passed in 2003 with the main purpose of providing global economic development through assisting in programs that will eliminate poverty while supporting good governance and economic freedom. These programs are run through the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), which partners with countries directly in programs that encourage economic growth.

The new amendments to the legislation will allow the MCC to work with more flexibility in their mission to increase regional trade, collaboration, and economic integrity. To accomplish this, the amendments to MCA will allow two projects, or “compacts,” per country simultaneously. In the previous legislation, there was only one allowed—making it particularly competitive. Additionally, MCC’s private-sector board members can extend their term for two years, providing stability. Lastly, the reporting requirements of MCC will be strengthened in order to ensure greater transparency.

Upon the introduction of these amendments to both AGOA and MCA, Chairman Royce, Ranking Member Engel, Rep. Smith and Rep. Bass said in the press release by the Foreign Affairs Committee: “Moving developing countries away from aid and toward trade helps African companies, especially women. But it also benefits U.S. farmers, manufacturers and small businesses by providing new markets for their goods. So today we are introducing a bill to modernize AGOA and MCA—key laws in the effort to encourage African economic independence and promote U.S.-Africa trade. With Africa’s consumer spending expected to reach one trillion dollars, now is the time to accelerate this important trade relationship.”

The introduction of these amendments is a step in the right direction for economic trade in Africa. As so many other countries have invested in the economic growth of Sub-Saharan Africa, the US appears to be moving in that direction as well with the updates of AGOA and MCA.

Sydney Roeder

Photo: Flickr

Digital GAP Act
The Digital Gap Act, a key bill advocated for by The Borgen Project has passed in the House of Representatives. The Digital Global Access Policy (GAP) Act (H.R. 5537) passed on September 7 with bipartisan support, championed by House Republican Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA), Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-NY).

The bill, introduced in June 2016, targets the percentage of world’s population without internet access. If enacted, the Digital GAP Act would promote mobile or broadband internet access to at least 1.5 billion of the 4.2 billion people without internet access by 2020. Nearly 75 percent of those living offline reside in only 20 countries and are predominantly low-income, female, elderly, illiterate and rural populations.

The bill requires the Department of State, USAID and the Peace Corps to make integrated efforts to promote first-time internet access across developing countries. To do so, the Digital GAP Act supports internet deployment, capacity building, and build-once approaches by standardizing the inclusion of broadband conduit pipes as part of sewer, power transmission facilities, rail, pipeline, bridge, tunnel and road projects.

By leveraging support from international agencies, the legislation aims to promote gender-equitable internet access and protect human rights online, including the freedoms of speech, assembly, association, religion and the right to privacy.

The bill would further require the President to report to Congress on not only the progress of his internet access policy but also on the partnerships between federal agencies to provide access and develop infrastructure.

To accomplish these goals, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the implementation of the Digital GAP Act would cost less than $500,000 between the years 2017 and 2021.

Upon the introduction of the bill into Congress, McMorris Rodgers stated, “Access to the same technology which powers the American economy is critical to empowering developing countries. By promoting internet access around the world and modernizing our approach to humanitarian and International development programs, we will be taking an important step towards closing the digital divide holding so many people back, and improving global economic security.”

Earlier this week, McMorris Rodgers expressed her enthusiasm towards the passing of the bill, adding, “Modernizing our international aid prerogatives to reflect the 21st-century world we all live in is crucial as we look to get more of the developing world online.”

Overall, the Digital GAP Act seeks to end the digital divide by providing equitable and affordable internet access which could be the catalyst for a myriad of positive changes in resource-poor communities by spurring economic growth and job creation, reducing poverty and gender inequality as well as improving health education.

The Borgen Project has advocated for the passing of this legislation in recent months and will continue to stress global internet access as an important tool in the fight against poverty as the bill progresses to the Senate.

-Anna O’Toole

Photo: Flickr

Global poverty champions

Recently, leadership is skyrocketing in congress on the subject of global poverty, especially highlighting several global poverty champions. But who are the people behind these victories? Here are Congress’s top ten global poverty champions:

1. Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA)

Rep. Smith leads as the Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee and Co-Chair of the Caucus for Effective Foreign Assistance. In addition, he holds a position on The Borgen Project’s Board of Directors. Having the opportunity to travel the developing world, Smith sought to change global poverty by sponsoring the Global Poverty Act until President Obama made the measure a central aspect of his foreign policy. Smith proves himself a true ally for the world’s poor by supporting key global poverty bills such as the recent Global Food Security Act (GFSA) as well as the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability, M-CORE, Reach Every Mother and Child and Electrify Africa Acts.

2. Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA)

Rep. Reichert has served in the House since 2004 and sits on The Borgen Project’s Board of Directors alongside Rep. Smith. He also chairs the Subcommittee on Trade, co-chairs the Global Health Caucus, and has membership on the Caucuses on Hunger and Malaria. In 2010, he was appointed to the President’s Export Council to help guide U.S. international trade policy. In addition, he is the sponsor of the Reach Every Mother and Child Act, which will boost the U.S.’s involvement in ending maternal and child deaths in developing countries.

3. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA)

Senior member of the House, Rep. Lee, effectively uses her membership on the Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs to expand overseas assistance. As a result of her commitment, Lee twice served as the Democratic Congressional Representative to the United Nations. In 2011, Lee helped found the HIV/AIDS Caucus. Prior to the caucus’s formation, she sponsored or cosponsored every principal piece of HIV/AIDS legislation. Most recently, Lee put forth a resolution calling the eradication of childhood AIDS a global priority.

4. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ)

With 35 years of congressional experience, Rep. Smith chairs the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations and co-chairs the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe as well as the Congressional-Executive Committee on China. In just this congressional session alone, he introduced legislation to end tropical diseases, increase exports to Africa and protect human rights in China. The Congressman also sponsored the successful GFSA which passed with bipartisan support.

5. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY)

As the Ranking Member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, member of the Commission on Human Rights and the Tuberculosis Elimination and HIV/AIDS Caucuses, Rep. Engel is no stranger to the many concerns surrounding global poverty. He is especially interested in Latin America and the Caribbean. Not only did Engel lead the U.S. Delegation to the Summit of the Americas, he hopes to reduce poverty in the region through U.S. aid and economic development. In June, he presented a bill directing the State Department and USAID to boost free trade and economic diversity in marginalized Latin American and Caribbean communities.

6. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA)

Named one of the most effective lawmakers in Congress by the Washington Post, Rep. Royce persistently defends the world’s poor. Prior to being the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, he presided over the Africa Subcommittee, where he established concern for the continent. Royce introduced the Electrify Africa Act to provide power to over 50 million Africans. In addition, he co-authored the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) that President Clinton signed into law in 2000 and Congress reauthorized for another 10 years.

7. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD)

As the Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and 2009 recipient of UNESCO Center for Peace’s anti-poverty award, Sen. Cardin does not hold back when it comes to addressing global poverty. He spearheaded bills to expand the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s activity in Africa, increase USAID’s use of science and technology to find poverty solutions, develop a rescue plan in the aftermath of the Nepal earthquake, prevent genocide and end war crimes in Syria.

8. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN)

Sen. Corker, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, serves not only the people of Tennessee but also the people of the world. Beyond being the sponsor of the Senate version of Electrify Africa, Corker authored the Food for Peace Reform Act, the Global Gateways Trade Capacity Act and the End Modern Slavery Initiative Act. Great acts which earn him a place amongst these global poverty champions.

9. Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE)

A member of the Foreign Relations Committee, State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee and the Caucuses on India, AIDS and Malaria, Sen. Coons believes the U.S. should play a greater role in reducing global poverty. Coons strongly supported a number of important measures such as the GFSA, Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act and Reach Every Mother and Child Act. Furthermore, he introduced legislation to combat maternal and child deaths in Africa and to alleviate threats to security and human rights in Somalia. He was also the only member of Congress to visit Liberia during the Ebola epidemic two years ago.

10. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME)

Sen. Collins is not as internationally-focused as her colleagues, but her commitment to global poverty initiatives is not lacking, earning her a place on this list of global poverty champions. Rated the most bipartisan member of Congress by Georgetown University and the Lugar Center, Collins received much support for her landmark Reach Every Mother and Child Act. Moreover, she initiated bills to develop a strategy to end Boko Haram’s terror and to partner the State Department with the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves.

The Borgen Project commends these global poverty champions for their long-lasting devotion to ending global poverty. Are these your representatives? Make sure to thank them for their hard work.

Kristina Evans

Photo: Pixabay

New Jersey Congressman Chris Smith and his congressional team traveled to the Philippines earlier this week to meet with victims, aid workers and government officials in the regions hit by Super Typhoon Hayian.  The U.S. government has spent $50 million in emergency aid to the Philippines, providing much needed food, water and emergency medical care. However Smith says that rising human trafficking in the Philippines is also a major issue. The Philippines is a large source for both sex and labor human trafficking. The poor are especially vulnerable to human trafficking in the aftermath of natural disasters when they have lost their homes as well as their communities and are looking for a way out.

Congressman Ed Royce hosted a house committee on foreign affairs hearing in Fullerton California on November 27, 2013.  One of the speakers was Angela Guanzon, who traveled to the U.S. from the Philippines in 2006 in hopes of a better life. “I worked 18 hour days and had to sleep on the floor in a hallway,” Guanzon said. “My co-workers and I were threatened if we tried to escape.”

Human trafficking is what the State Department, law enforcement officials and NGOs are calling “modern day slavery.” Following narcotics, it is the second most profitable criminal enterprise worldwide and the Philippines has the second largest victim population. Many poverty stricken Filipino women leave their families in the hope supporting them from abroad.

Approximately 1 million Filipino men and women migrate each year, currently there are 10 million Filipinos living abroad. Many of these workers are subject to forced labor and harsh conditions, not just in the U.S., but in Asia and the Middle East as well.  Women who work in domestic positions often suffer violence, sexual abuse and rape. Traffickers use local recruiters in villages and urban centers who often pretend to be representatives of government sponsored employment agencies.  Furthermore, victims are required to pay “recruitment fees” that leave the workers vulnerable to forced labor, debt bondage and prostitution.

Many Filipinos live in poverty and are often swayed by recruiters who offer work and a better life. Furthermore, the vast majority of victims are also women and girls; 300,000-400,000 are women and 60,000 -100,00 are children; over 80% are females under the age of 18.

To combat this, the Philippines government created the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 and has made minor improvements since then. For example, it increased funding to the anti-trafficking agency from $230,000 to $1.5 million and went from eight full time staff members to 37. They were also able to repatriate 514 Filipinos from Syria in the winter of 2012, 90% of whom were trafficked. Even with an upgraded version of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003, much work still needs to be done in the Philippines and in the U.S. to ensure that women and the poor in the Philippines are not vulnerable to modern day slavery.

– Lisa Toole

Sources: CNN,, ABS CBN,
Photo: The Guardian

U.S. Representative Ed Royce of California’s 39th District, current Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has a long career in public service. Beginning in 1982 as a state senator for southern California, Representative Royce authored the nation’s first anti-stalker bill. Since then, his interests have transitioned to international issues and, serving his eleventh term in Congress, he now holds a long record in the House sub-committee focused on foreign affairs. Today, he is a staunch supporter of the Food Aid Reform Act, which currently faces stiff opposition in the House.

Edward “Ed” Royce is no stranger to standing up for change, even if he has to do so alone. Over thirty years ago, Representative Royce’s anti-stalker bill was the first of its kind in America. Now, all fifty states boast versions of that original bill. Later in his career, he was the first legislator to call for a single regulator under the Treasury Department for the three housing government sponsored entities: Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the twelve Federal Home Loan Banks. The Congressman has had a storied career in pushing important national legislation.

From 1997 to 2004, Representative Royce chaired the Africa Subcommittee and, in his more recent work in Congress, he has voiced the importance of Africa to the U.S. Moreover, Royce underscores the importance of investing foreign aid in African nations. So much does the Chairman appreciate the necessity of efficient and effective aid for Africa that he has strongly voiced his support for immediate passage of H.R. 1983, the Food Aid Reform Act currently in the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee of Congress.

The Congressman recognizes that aid to Africa not only supports Africans in the fight against global poverty, but also revitalizes consumer markets in target countries that, in turn, purchase goods from the United States. The concept is not novel. Rather, historical data shows that most of those countries benefiting from U.S. aid in the past have since become consumers of American goods. The initial investment, as it turns out, acts as a catalyst to establish sustainable middle-class markets that demand imported products that we can provide. Simply put, foreign aid creates domestic jobs.

Representative Royce’s support for the Food Aid Reform Act, however, is more dollars and cents-minded than all that. By ending the current practice of purchasing food at a premium in the United States and sending it abroad on ocean vessels, many miles around the globe, we can focus on a cheaper alternative that focuses on small, local farmers in targeted, impoverished nations. That is, the bill would allow food destined for relief areas to be purchased locally from farmers at a much cheaper price and transported over land, a much shorter distance. Here is what the Chairman has to say on the issue:

“The system through which the United States provides food aid to those facing starvation is needlessly inefficient and ineffective. Especially given the current fiscal environment, it is critical that we enable the U.S. to reach two million more people while reducing mandatory spending by $500 million over ten years. The facts speak for themselves.”

Currently, the prognosis from holds the bill at a 47% of passing the House. To learn more about the bill or to voice your support for its passage, contact your local congressperson.

– Herman Watson

Source: American Jewish World Service, Chairman Ed Royce, House Foreign Affairs Committee
Photo: The Foundry

Common Sense in the Food Aid Reform Act
The Food Aid Reform Act, or H.R. 1983, was introduced to Congress on May 15th of this year. Just a couple weeks ago, the House of Representatives subcommittee responsible for H.R. 1983, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, held a significant hearing on the bill. Though they have yet to officially report on the bill, gives it a 47% chance of passing. Given the importance of the Food Aid Reform Act in the fight against global poverty, this prognosis is troubling.

The Food Aid Reform Act amends the Food for Peace Act to reform assistance programs under that Act. As House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce notes, the current food aid system is needlessly inefficient and ineffective. The US buys food from American farmers and ships it across entire oceans to countries in need. The Food Aid Reform Act would result in food aid being purchased for cheaper from small farmers in the target nation itself, or somewhere nearby. Not only would food aid be cheaper under this approach, but impoverished local farmers would no longer be competing with heavy agribusinesses abroad.

According to a USDA pilot project, taxpayers would get 25% to 50% more food for their dollars under the Act. Moreover, food would reach communities up to fourteen weeks faster than through the current system. Clearly, the facts show the sensibility of reform.

Unfortunately, the 47% passage prognosis indicates there is much work to be done in drumming up the necessary support to get the bill passed. One way of getting this support is to take a moment to call your local congressperson and voice your opinion on the matter. If not for the good of local farmers themselves, we, as taxpayers, should consider our wallets.

– Herman Watson

Source: GovTrack, House Foreign Affairs Committee, The Hill

Ed Royce
 “Trafficking in persons is a grievous offense against human dignity that impacts every country on earth, and disproportionately victimizes girls and children.” – Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA)

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ed Royce opened a hearing on human trafficking on May 7th, 2013. The hearing will discuss local and private sector initiatives to combat human trafficking.  Modern-day slavery, human trafficking is a growing global crime.

One of the things society must wrestle with is how the vulnerable are treated and protected as well as what their responsibility is in coming to the aid of the exploited. Human trafficking exists in every nation worldwide and targets women and children in disproportionate amounts.  Numbers indicate over 20 million victims of forced labor and forced sex work worldwide. However, bigger than the numbers are the faces and stories of the victims, largely children, who have been stripped of their hope, innocence, and youth.

Chairman Royce’s Chief of Staff, Amy Porter, spent time in India and Cambodia serving victims of human trafficking. She recounts girls as young as 3 years old in awful, disgusting situations. Closer to home, it is estimated that 100,000 children in the US are victims of human trafficking.  The Foreign Affairs Committee has worked tirelessly to get human trafficking on the minds of Congress and will continue to work hard to make the issue an urgent and pressing one in the coming weeks and years.

The hearing will look at some of the promising private sector and community partnerships going on worldwide and the implications of those innovative partnerships in eradicating human trafficking. The tools that are being developed and the relationships established on the local, community level may just be the answer to fighting human trafficking worldwide.

Videos of the Question and Answer session as well as the opening statement can be found here.

– Amanda Kloeppel

Source: House Foreign Affairs Committee
Photo: Jewish Journal