Reaching Farther Together for Inclusive Growth in Africa

Last week, I had the honor of welcoming a distinguished group of leaders from 14 African nations to the 2016 African Growth and Opportunity Act Labor and Trade Ministerial.

AGOA authorizes the president to designate countries as eligible to receive preferential trade benefits if they are determined, among other criteria, to have established, or are making continual progress toward establishing, the protection of internationally recognized worker rights and the elimination of certain child labor practices.

The goal of programs like AGOA is not only to spur growth among a wide range of sectors, regions and businesses, but also to help distribute the benefits of trade to the people generating that growth: workers and their families.

Looking out at the crowd as I spoke, I was struck by the continent’s diversity and the dynamism of Africa’s leaders present at this gathering. This year’s forum was the first time ministers responsible for labor and employment and ministers responsible for trade and investment have met under AGOA to promote coordinated policy action. Each minister came a long way to join us. Now, together, we can go farther.

Bringing trade and labor ministers to the same table brings us one step closer to a vision of inclusive economic growth, where all of us work together toward an outcome that serves the interests of businesses, workers, communities, and nations as a whole.

That is why the worker rights eligibility component of our AGOA law is so important. Strong and increased trade, coupled with effective protection of worker rights, is a sturdy framework upon which inclusive growth can be supported.

To make trade-driven growth possible, the U.S. Department of Labor coordinates our work closely with the Office of the U. S. Trade Representative to develop trade policies that lead not only to increased exports and more jobs, but better jobs with better working conditions -– leading to a better way of life for workers.

President Obama supports our efforts; one of his priorities has been to support the creation of opportunities for anyone in the United States to join the middle class. Because of that, the United States has heavily invested in community colleges, high school programs, apprenticeship programs, and many other programs that help to train people for good jobs with higher wages – what the International Labor Organization calls Decent Work.

He has also extended those efforts to build opportunities in sub-Saharan Africa. Over the last two decades the U.S. Department of Labor has provided over $236 million dollars to sub-Saharan African countries in an effort to improve worker rights and expand access to educational opportunities and skills training.

This year we funded a project in Madagascar aimed at reducing child labor in the vanilla producing areas of the Sava region. The project will work with vanilla exporters, law enforcement entities and vanilla-growing communities to address factors contributing to child labor in these areas.

In Zambia, a new project will help empower girls of legal working age and vulnerable women to get the training they need to find decent work opportunities – or to start or expand their own businesses.

And finally, we are providing global funding to support apprenticeships, working to improve local and national capacities and providing workplace-based training programs with a focus on vulnerable and marginalized youth, in particular girls and other adolescents at or above the legal working age who are engaged in or at risk of engaging in the worst forms of child labor.

We recognize that improving worker rights is not easily achieved. Properly addressing worker rights concerns requires an investment of attention, time, resources and collaborative efforts. Yet, time and again, we’ve seen this investment pay off.

Trade initiatives that integrate supportive labor provisions can significantly help to increase productivity and exports while pulling people out of poverty. Integrated trade and labor can also help to grow the middle class by creating greater opportunities for businesses, lower costs for consumers, better jobs for workers and new and more tansformative opportunities for developing countries.

I am confident that we will leave this year’s forum with a deeper appreciation of the relationship between trade and labor -– and a renewed commitment to working together, advancing worker rights and livelihoods farther than we ever could alone.

About the Author: Tom Perez serves as the U.S. Secretary of Labor.

Editor's Note: This entry originally appeared on the U.S. Department of Labor's Blog.

For More Information:

A row of African flags at the table of ministerial representatives at the 2015 African Growth and Opportunity Act Forum on August 26, 2015. [State Department Photo]
Posted by Tom Perez
September 26, 2016

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