The US Congress on Thursday renewed duty-free access for textiles made in sub-Saharan Africa, giving a last-minute extension to rules estimated to have created hundreds of thousands of jobs.
The Senate and House of Representatives voted separately to maintain zero tariffs on African-made clothing even if the fabric comes from outside, as is the case for most name-brand apparel produced on the continent.
Congress extended the provision until 2015. It had been due to expire at the end of September, leading some African nations and Western manufacturers to fear that factories would be shuttered across the continent.
Lawmakers also voted to expand the benefits to South Sudan, Africa's newest nation which is sorely lacking in revenue. The duty-free access first took effect in 2000 under the African Growth and Opportunity Act, or AGOA, signed by president Bill Clinton.
The long-awaited votes in Congress came as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton paid an 11-day tour of Africa that includes a stop in South Sudan. Her tour is aimed partly at spurring economic growth on the continent.
The market-based "trade-not-aid" approach to Africa enjoys wide support in Congress, but the extension was held up as a conservative Republican senator said that the legislation did not adequately account for spending.
Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma offered an amendment that would offset $192 million in costs by eliminating or consolidating other federal agencies related to trade.
Coburn's amendment failed but senators then went ahead and approved the overall legislation, which was offered as part of a package that included an extension of economic sanctions on Myanmar.
The House also approved the bill by voice vote. The legislation heads for the signature of President Barack Obama, who has strongly supported the extension.
Exports by sub-Saharan nations to the United States under AGOA have risen more than five-fold to $70.6 billion last year, more than five times than in 2001 after the legislation took effect, according to the US Trade Representative's office.
A recent study by the Brookings Institution quoted Rosa Whitaker, a former US trade official, as estimating that the legislation has created 300,000 jobs.
The African Coalition on Trade, which advocates commercial relations between the continent and the United States, said that AGOA indirectly created as many as 1.3 million jobs.© ANP/AFP