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AGOA and MCA
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’ 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 coauthored the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) that President Clinton signed into law in 2000 and Congress reauthorized for another ten 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

Syrian Lost Generation
A lost generation of children is quite the dramatic phrase. One would expect it to define a group of children whose duress has gone unnoticed. For the children in Syria, it’s a slightly different case. As the reports of casualties are noted everyday, the biggest issue should be the loss of not only physical life but the psychological well being of children and their futures. Their plight, however, is overshadowed by external, as well as internal, desires to cease political unrest and see a new regime replace al-Assad’s.

UNICEF has been working consistently both inside and outside of Syria to try to maintain some level of balance and peace in the lives of these children. By first addressing their basic needs, 4 million people who have remained in Syria now have access to clean drinking water. 1.5 million children have received vaccinations against polio and measles. And aside from the 6% of children who are currently still able to attend school, 75,000 have been lucky enough to attend ‘school clubs’ to keep up with their education. Even for the quarter million refugee children, UNICEF has managed to extend its basic services as well as offering protection against abuse and exploitation, two things all too common in the chaotic and insecure camps.

Resources are limited, however. Despite its plea for $195 million to continue support until June of this year, the UN reports that only 20% of that requested funding has been given. About 2 months after this request, former Senator-now-Secretary of State John Kerry announced the $60 million apparent ‘non-lethal’ aid package to Syrian rebels. While terms of ‘non-lethal’ and ‘food and medical supplies’ are tossed around, there is no direct language addressing the key issues that are important to every single person and party involved directly and indirectly in this conflict.

The Secretary of State has made it clear that his goals are to support the rebels in preventing and stopping President Bashar al-Assad from staging attacks against his own people. While the US government is set on securing the future of Syria, it seems only logical that they would realize that without providing psychological services, safe havens of learning, and adequate medical facilities to Syrian children, there will be a bleak future for Syria.

The trauma and permanent damage UNICEF reports is inevitable for Syria’s lost generation. It is going to affect the politics, economy, and every aspect of their country once they become of age and replace the current generation.

Eliot Engel, the Senior Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee and Senators John McCain and Marco Rubio sat down to discuss how “providing military aid to Syria’s opposition would bring the humanitarian disaster to an end” in hopes of continuing a peaceful relationship with Syria after Assad’s rule. Engel is currently pushing for the US’s active involvement in training and arming ‘some’ rebels (although he graciously adds that humanitarian assistance will be provided as well).

Such an obvious focus on expanding the degree of fighting is not going to bring the civil war to an end. While that question requires a great deal more of serious thought, it would hopefully require a lot less hesitation to understand that the safety and education of Syria’s children, both in and outside of the country, requires immediate attention and aid.

– Deena Dulgerian

Sources: UN News Centre, Yahoo News, NPR