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The Mongolia Third-Neighbor Trade Act
Representatives Ted Yoho (R-FL) and Dina Titus (D-NV) along with eight other bipartisan representatives proposed the Mongolia Third-Neighbor Trade Act. Mongolia has become a prominent ally due to its location; it lies between Russia and China, and while it is independent, it still relies on both countries for resources and support. The Third-Neighbor Trade Act is an important bill for maintaining stable trade relations with not only Mongolia but other allied nations as well.

How Trade Relations Can Strengthen Mongolia

The main purpose of this bill is to create a stronger economy within Mongolia. According to a press release from Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) on April 11, 2019, “The Mongolia Third-Neighbor Trade Act is not just about the imports of cashmere; it is a smart policy that supports a strong, independent Mongolia that continues to be a beacon of freedom in the region and a strategic partner of the United States.”

This shows how important U.S. trade relations with Mongolia are in protecting independent freedom. The Mongolia Third-Neighbor Trade Act comprises of four main components that will improve trade relations.

The Mongolia Third-Neighbor Trade Act’s purpose is to improve trade relations and it should make Mongolia more economically stable. The bill plans to utilize the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and to support small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Through the help of corporations and enterprises, the economy in Mongolia can securely expand. The increase in technology and science can create other forms of trade for Mongolia to offer to the other partnered nations.

Mongolia is constantly competing with China to become the largest producer of cashmere and textiles. With duty-free trade in place for Mongolia’s exports, there will be no other competition for these goods within the U.S. In return, the U.S. will expand on what goods and resources it will export to Mongolia.

Protecting Mongolia’s Resources

The second part of the bill seeks to improve U.S. exports to Mongolia which will help Mongolians survive harsh winters. Winters in Mongolia can be particularly deadly to the livestock that live there. It is particularly reliant on its livestock in terms of the industry employing one-third of its population.

Without any way of protecting their main source of income, these rural communities start spiraling towards poverty. During the time of dzud, which is the Mongolian word for winters so severe they kill plenty of livestock, many things can happen. Mainly, the livestock cannot create a significant enough reserve of fat to protect them from the harsh conditions. If Mongolia becomes a priority to receive imports from the U.S., farmers will be able to better prepare for this type of disaster.

Third, the bill will create more jobs in Mongolia, particularly for women. Women will be able to create cashmere goods within the country instead of exporting the cashmere to China for production. The bill will create 40,000 jobs for women to create cashmere products. Women are primarily dominating the garment industry in the country. These jobs will boost Mongolia’s economy by not only empowering the nation but by keeping it out of poverty.

Duty-Free Trade

Lastly, the bill will impose a duty-free trade on products containing 23 percent or more cashmere. This part of the bill has the support of two major trade businesses, The American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) and Mongolia’s Gobi Corporation. Through the Mongolia Third Neighbor Trade Act, “Congress would forge a stronger partnership with our friends in Mongolia and provide American consumers with better access to these high-end products,” said the CEO of AAFA. The Gobi Corporation has shops within the U.S. The Corporation believes that the U.S. will become an even stronger competitor against China as a consumer of cashmere goods.

The Mongolia Third-Neighbor Trade Act seeks to improve relations with Mongolia. These relations have been changing since 2007, putting the U.S. in danger of losing the trade advantage of China and Russia. Mongolia has provided military aid to many countries in both Afghanistan and Iran. While representatives have proposed and changed this bill over the last few years, the support of 10 Congressmen may have perfected it. The five Democrats and five Republicans working on this bill show that a united front can lower the effects of poverty.

Christina Atler
Photo: Flickr

Democracy in Cambodia
Cambodia is a country in Southeast Asia that has struggled to maintain a robust democracy for nearly its entire history. For decades, military coups and civil war have made democracy difficult to implement in Cambodia. Generally, the international community has struggled to find a way to successfully institutionalize democracy within the country. Back in January 2019, U.S. congressman Ted Yoho introduced the Cambodia Democracy Act of 2019 in order to deal with this problem. However, before delving into the details of the legislation, it is important to understand that democracy in Cambodia has a troubled history.  Furthermore, it is essential to understand how those troubles have prompted a response from U.S. lawmakers.

History of Democracy in Cambodia

Prime minister Hun Sen is a key piece in understanding why democracy has struggled to firmly take hold in Cambodia. He became prime minister of Cambodia in 1985. At the time, various armed factions had plunged the country into civil war.

In the early 1990s, a massive United Nations peacekeeping force attempted to disarm and bring ceasefire between the various factions, run national elections and promote democracy in Cambodia. Nearly 20,000 military, police and other personnel made up the force.

In 1991, the Paris Peace Accords officially brought the conflict to an end, which outlined basic protections for human rights. The agreement also promoted free and fair elections within the country.

The 1991 agreements led to the creation of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC). The UNTAC facilitated national elections in 1993. During these elections, guerillas carried out violent attacks on U.N. peacekeepers. The Hun Sen-led Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) engaged in a massive campaign of violent intimidation against people who might vote against them.

The royalist Funcinpec party won the majority of seats in the National Assembly. Norodom Ranariddh, the son of the former Cambodian King Sihanouk, led the party. Hun Sen and the CPP did not accept the results of the election. As such, they were able to force their way into a power-sharing agreement. This ultimately allowed Sen to serve as deputy prime minister alongside Ranariddh.

However, this agreement broke down in 1997 when Hun Sen seized power from Ranariddh in a coup. Cambodia then elected him prime minister in the following elections. The CPP would go on to win elections in 1998, 2003, 2008, 2013 and 2018. In order to preserve his grip on the country, Hun Sen has wielded increasingly autocratic power to crush the opposition. In 2017, authorities arrested the leader of the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), the leading opposition party to the CPP, on trumped-up charges of treason. Two months later, the Supreme Court suspended the CNRP entirely. In the 2018 elections, which international observers considered illegitimate, the CPP won more than 100 of the 125 contested seats in the National Assembly.

The Cambodia Democracy Act of 2019

Following Hun Sen’s crackdown on dissent prior to the 2018 elections, U.S. lawmakers became increasingly vocal about promoting democracy in Cambodia. Ted Yoho has been chief among these lawmakers. He is a Republican congressman representing Florida’s 3rd congressional district.

Yoho introduced the Cambodia Democracy Act of 2018 during the 115th Congress. The bill managed to pass in the House, but the Senate did not pass it. Yoho re-introduced the bill during the 116th Congress as the Cambodia Democracy Act of 2019. Five Democrats and four Republicans co-sponsored the bill.

According to its description on GovTrack, the Cambodia Democracy Act of 2019 aims to “promote free and fair elections, political freedoms, and human rights in Cambodia.” Specifically, the bill would authorize the president to impose various sanctions on Cambodia’s security, military and government senior officials. It would also authorize sanctions on those who might be undermining democracy in Cambodia and controlled by said individuals. The International Emergency Economic Powers Act outlined these sanctions. It includes economic sanctions such as asset freezes and visa restrictions. Penalties for undermining democracy would be the same as those under the IEEPA, which can reach fines of up to $1 million.

There is a 4 percent chance that Cambodia will enact the Cambodia Democracy Act of 2019. This is an estimate according to Skopos Labs. However, Congressman Yoho is still confident about the bill’s prospects. In a phone interview with VOA Khmer, Yoho said, “We had a lot of bipartisan support last year and I think you’ll see the same amount this year…”

U.S. Support of Democracy in Cambodia

Overall, the fact that the legislation is drawing support from across party lines is an encouraging sign that the U.S. is willing to promote democracy in Cambodia. Additionally, there is a possibility that the U.S. could pressure the Hun Sen regime to put an end to its autocratic abuses of power.

– Andrew Bryant
Photo: Flickr

Representative Ted Yoho
In February, U.S. Representative Ted Yoho (R-FL). proposed an overhaul to foreign aid. This April, with the support of U.S. Representative Adam Smith (D-WA), and Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and Chris Coons (D-DE), the Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development Act (BUILD Act) has gained significant momentum.

The International Development Finance Corporation

The BUILD Act, also known as S.2463, aims to consolidate the disparate U.S. agencies currently providing foreign aid into a single, new agency, to be called the International Development Finance Corporation (IDFC). More specifically, there would be a consolidation of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), USAID’s Credit Authority, USAID’s Office of Private Capital and Microenterprise, and USAID’s Enterprise Funds. According to U.S. Representative Yoho, this consolidation would increase efficiency of foreign spending, and promote U.S. security, economic and diplomatic interests abroad.

The proposed agency will also benefit recipients of U.S. foreign aid. More streamlined and efficient spending in the U.S. government will allow for other countries to become stronger trading partners; in doing so, this change would also open new markets, and encourage self-sufficient economic development in communities worldwide. Supporters of the BUILD Act argue that it will help combat humanitarian concerns that plague many developing nations, including poverty, hunger and disease.

In recent weeks the BUILD Act has been publically supported by the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, U.S. Representative Ed Royce (R-CA), the committee saying that older agencies such as OPIC need to be modernized, and as Americans, not as Democrats or Republicans, will strengthen American foreign aid and make the U.S. competitive.

What is the BUILD Act?

So what exactly does the BUILD Act propose? It gives the new agency, the IDFC, grantmaking capability, the ability to make equity investments, and an increased spending cap. These capabilities increase U.S. foreign aid spending, and encourage the participation of private sector capital to complement development assistance objectives. It is important to note however, that there is a regulation on how much of foreign aid spending can be used to make equity investments.

The text of the bill describes the purpose of the BUILD Act in Section 101 of the bill as, “to mobilize private capital in support of sustainable, broad-based economic growth, poverty reduction, and development through demand-driven partnerships with the private sector that further the foreign policy interests of the United States,” highlighting the benefits of the BUILD Act going both to the U.S. and international aid recipients.

While some are concerned about how the organization will actually take over USAID’s and OPIC’s duties, many are excited by the fact that the creation of the IDFC will create further accountability and cost no money, making it an increasingly appealing bill. While more work needs to be done concerning the transition, oversight on the IDFC will fall to Congress, and external auditors, who will preform regular audits of the organization.

Allied For a Cause

U.S. Representative Adam Smith, a co-sponsor on the initial proposal, announced a press release that reads: “Through our partnerships with friends and allies, we work to raise up local communities – strengthening institutions, combating hunger and disease, and ensuring that development projects have sustainable, long lasting impacts.” Representative Smith identifies how this increased spending on development improves the lives of individuals abroad.

The BUILD Act is gaining momentum in Washington, and purports to improve efficiency and effectiveness of U.S. foreign aid deployment.

– Katherine Kirker
Photo: Flickr