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By Grant T. Harris June 6 at 6:00 AM

Grant T. Harris is CEO of Harris Africa Partners. He was senior director for Africa at the White House from 2011 to 2015.
Small shops at a market in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, display imported used clothing, known locally as chagua. (Jacques Nkinzingabo for The Washington Post)

Rwandans would like to wean themselves from American hand-me-downs, and the United States wants to punish them for it. Last week, the Trump administration suspended duty-free access to U.S. markets for Rwandan clothing. This may sound like inconsequential news, compared with the prospect of a trade war with China, the European Union or our Canadian neighbors, but the move follows a dangerous trend of disregard for Africa. And it’s not just Africans who will suffer: Neglecting the continent will foreclose trade opportunities, harm U.S. companies and, ultimately, cost U.S. jobs.

Rwanda and several of its neighbors recently introduced tariffs on used clothing in an attempt to bolster the local apparel industry. In response, a U.S. trade group filed a complaint, claiming that the new tariffs violate the terms of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which requires participating countries to reduce trade barriers for U.S. goods. Unlike its neighbors, Rwanda stayed the course. The administration has every right to retaliate under the terms of the act — but the move is inconsistent and shortsighted.

For a start, the administration can hardly claim to be acting on principle. More than 100 countries benefit from U.S. trade preference programs without returning the favor. Florie Liser, former assistant U.S. trade representative for Africa, notes that countries like India and Brazil, which are major exporters to the United States under the program known as the Generalized System of Preferences, “ship a lot more to us than Rwanda, yet have significant barriers to U.S. trade.” The selective decision to retaliate against Rwanda not only adds to the general trade turmoil damaging U.S. standing overseas but also is seen as a particular snub of Africa, where President Trump’s derogatory comments about its countries have not been forgotten.

The administration can’t claim to be protecting a vital American industry, either. The complaints of the used-clothing association — that Rwandan tariffs would have a negative impact on up to 40,000 U.S. jobs — are unsubstantiated. Rwanda, a country of approximately 12.5 million people, imported $17 million in used clothing in 2016, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development. The clothes are primarily donations to organizations like the Salvation Army and Goodwill, bought by members of the trade group that lodged the complaint, the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association, and resold in Africa. Rwandan vendors sell them in market stalls.

[African nations are fed up with the West’s hand-me-downs]

Rwanda’s motivations are as much about dignity as they are about economics. Just as China recently banned imports of “foreign garbage” that it used to buy and recycle, Rwanda is taking a stand against the perceived indignity of buying clothes that others have worn and discarded. It would be a different story if Rwandans were rejecting icons of American ingenuity and enterprise, like cutting-edge medical devices or mobile technologies. But they’re not; they’re rejecting our hand-me-downs. The White House fails to grasp that, as well as the bigger picture for the United States. It’s not just Rwanda — the president is picking fights with trading partners old and new over relatively small amounts of U.S. imports and exports and with little regard for the long-term consequences. As relationships fray — even longtime allies feel under duress — the price to the United States rises; the country will pay not just in self-inflicted economic harm but also in diminished global leadership and reduced support for its national security priorities.

Banning used clothes is not enough to build Rwanda’s domestic textile and apparel industry, especially given competition from cheap Chinese imports of ready-made clothing. But there is a certain irony in Trump punishing Rwanda for protecting domestic manufacturing in what really is a Rwandan version of “America First.” More to the point, the United States ought to be supporting countries that pursue economic growth and development plans — not just because it is the right thing to do but also because the vitality of the U.S. economy depends on whether we have markets for our goods and services.

Until recently, supporting African economic growth was a key piece of U.S.-Africa policy. For instance, building on the African Growth and Opportunity Act’s strong legacy of bipartisan support, President Barack Obama launched the Trade Africa initiative to support regional economic integration and work toward a more reciprocal trade relationship. But the suspension of access for Rwandan apparel reinforces the sad truth that the Trump administration has no vision for trade with Africa. And there is no question that U.S. businesses will suffer as a result. Africa represents the last frontier for America’s export-driven economy, with consumer and business spending predicted to reach $6.7 trillion by 2030. A U.S. government report released last week cited motor vehicles, poultry and refined petroleum products among various sectors, as well as a range of services, with the potential for greater American exports to sub-Saharan Africa.

The United States misses a larger opportunity by engaging in petty trade squabbles and generally neglecting the continent. While it is true that the Trump administration maintains that it supports more reciprocal trade relationships with African states and has been studying trade and investment potential in certain African markets, advancing a strategic economic partnership with Africa requires more than talk. Actions — like threatening the funding of government agencies that support U.S. companies investing in Africa, leaving key ambassadorships vacant and deprioritizing trade programs — speak louder than words.

Meanwhile, other economies are making aggressive commercial plays in Africa. China has been Africa’s leading trade partner for the last nine years; trade scuffles like this one with Rwanda can only further drive African states into China’s open arms. Nor is it just China — the European Union has been actively traveling the region, signing two-way trade agreements that will disadvantage American companies far more than any tariffs on secondhand clothing.

It would be misguided to dismiss this row with Rwanda as a small issue with a small country. The larger economic picture is much more worrying.

 

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Diplomacy in Korea and the Hope It Inspires

History will be made this week with the summit meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. With a second summit between Kim and President Donald Trump looming in four to six weeks or so, it’s tempting to look past this first summit, but that would be a mistake. This inter-Korean summit could well be the more important of the two. Should North and South Korea continue to make solid progress toward peace and reconciliation, and there is every reason to think they will, agreements made at this first summit will set the stage for subsequent negotiations, including the Trump-Kim summit.

Recent media reports are full of speculation about U.S., Chinese and Japanese interests and influences over the North-South Korea talks. This is understandable, but the real story here is about Koreans making peace.

It’s remarkable how far we’ve come since just the beginning of the year, when the opening created by the Olympic Truce greased the wheels for smart diplomacy by the governments of both South and North Korea, leading to an astonishing thaw in relations.

Even before the two summits begin, North Korea has agreed to freeze its nuclear weapons and missile tests, agreed to discuss denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, and voiced openness to the continued presence of 28,000 American troops in South Korea. Just last week, North and South Korea discussed signing a peace treaty to replace the supposedly temporary armistice in place since 1953 (meaning a state of war still technically exists between the North and the South and the U.S.). Also, remarkable in terms of symbolic and practical meaning, they discussed

returning the border to a more normal state. The “Demilitarized Zone” is of course a misnomer, perhaps even ironic at this point, as it is the most heavily militarized patch of land on Earth.

All of this incredible progress has occurred despite the North’s understandable loathing of the U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises, the largest in the world, which are currently in progress. Beyond that, no sanctions on North Korea have yet been lifted, and neither the inter-Korean summit nor the U.S.-North Korean summit meetings have happened yet.

North Korea has pivoted to an emphasis on economic development over further military investment, as announced by Kim on New Year’s Day and in more recent statements. The United States should honor the remarkable steps North Korea has taken to demonstrate it is operating in good faith with a reciprocal commitment for peace. Ultimately, U.S. goals should include the signing of a peace treaty, the lifting of economic sanctions against North Korea, and the integration of North Korea into a regional and world economy, which is key to long-term peace and stability on the Peninsula.

While recent diplomatic progress has inspired hope for peace around the world, few feel the full weight of that hope more than Koreans. South Koreans overwhelmingly support a peace agreement to end Korean War, 79% according to the latest poll.

For many Korean and Korean-American family members divided by Korean War, these summits offer the hope of being reunited with their families—the last hope for some. According to the latest government report, 131,447 South Koreans are registered as separated families since 1988. Over 73,611 have passed away since 1988 when the registration opened, and a quarter of those alive are over 90 years old.

In the U.S., Members of Congress to show their support for diplomacy and a successful summit with public statements, and by co-sponsoring the “No Unconstitutional First Strike on Korea Act,” S. 2016 sponsored by Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) and H.R. 4837  sponsored by Representative Ro Khanna. It’s time we all gave peace on the Korean Peninsula a real chance.

 

by:SIMONE CHUN – KEVIN MARTIN

Dr. Simone Chun serves on the Steering Committee of the Alliance of Scholars Concerned about Korea. Kevin Martin is President of Peace Action and Peace Action Education Fund, and also convenes the Korea Peace Network. www.peaceaction.org

 

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Ted Cruz ain’t cruising anymore, it seems, that Trump is the top dog of the Republican Party. If Trump is what America has to show, how rotten has politics become in the U.S.

Professor Mekonen Haddis

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