The following interview of Ambassador Demetrios Marantis, Deputy U.S. Trade Representative, conducted by the ONE Campaign‘s Malaka Gharib, was originally published on the ONE Blog on Monday, June 6, 2011.
I had the huge honor of interviewing Ambassador Demetrios Marantis for our Trade = Development blog series. He plays a leading role in enforcing the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a US legislation to help assist the economies of sub-Saharan Africa, and his passion for his work is infectious. Read our conversation to find out how trade affects President Obama’s development strategy, why ONE members should care about trade and what’s next for AGOA.
So, I need to start off with a dumb question. What is AGOA and why do you think it is an important tool for development?
Here’s why AGOA rocks. It rocks because it provides trade to enhance development. And what’s so interesting is that it helps real people create jobs for real people. It opens the US market basically entirely for African exports of essentially everything that Africa produces. And it allows men and women who otherwise wouldn’t have a job to make a product and send it to the US.
Why should anti-poverty activists like our ONE members care about global trade?
Because you can see that creating opportunities to export creates jobs and therefore creates economic opportunities. You see the benefits in the US, Africa and throughout developing world, the real interrelationship between trade, exports and job creation.
How does international trade fit with President Obama’s overall development strategy?
This T-shirt was produced by women in Liberia who were subject to brutal conditions during the civil war. Because they’re making this T-shirt and selling it to the US, they are able to send their children to school, put a roof over their head. It’s a direct link that the opportunity we provide through AGOA that allows for women to produce this high-end organic cotton for yoga companies.
Why do African producers need AGOA? Can’t they just export under a regular trade policy?
What AGOA does is that it basically opens the door in the sense that it lowers tariffs on products that would otherwise face tariffs. It gives African exports a competitive advantage versus competitors in other regions in the world.
But opening the door isn’t enough. We have to help Africa take advantage of the opportunitiess it provides, and that’s why we engage in technical assistance, providing exporters the help they need to market their products, so what they export actually makes sense to our market.
For example, this jar of marmalade was made by more than 90 HIV-positive women in Swaziland. They went through a technical training to market this lime marmalade. They hired a designer to create a logo that would appeal to people at let’s say, Whole Foods. They could make delicious lime marmalade, but if it doesn’t have good marketing and it’s placed in the wrong stores, it won’t sell. This is an integral part of the process.
What’s next for AGOA?
One major thing coming to a theater near you -– in 2012, there’s a provision of AGOA that expires -– that’s the provision that helps African apparel makers use fabric used in a third country and have that qualify for AGOA preferences. The administration is pushing to renew that provision for 2015, which is when the program expires. That’s a major priority of ours. And add South Sudan to our list of potentially eligible countries once it achieves its independence.
Tomorrow, you and several other African and American leaders are meeting in Lusaka, Zambia for the AGOA forum. What do you hope the outcome will be?
First, we need to work together to take our trade and investment to the next phase. This conference provides an opportunity to lay the groundwork. Second, we need to continue a really honest conversation about what works in AGOA and what doesn’t. As we look toward renewal, we’re sure we’ve learned from success and failure. Lastly, we want to provide the opportunity to meet bilaterally with governments and a variety of stakeholders and business leaders who all care about the same thing on how to promote trade assistance with the US and sub-Saharan Africa.