International aid agency Oxfam America welcomed today's Congressional extension and expansion US trade preference programs, many which were set to expire at the end of the year. These programs have helped to generate economic growth and jobs in some of the poorest countries in the world. <br/><br/>In the final hours of the 109th Congress, both the House and the Senate approved the trade legislation. The package was championed by House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-CA), who is retiring, and incoming Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY). Among other things, the legislation helps struggling African apparel manufacturers who faced a looming deadline in the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). The legislation extends until 2012 the ability for producers in Africa to use non-African fabric for apparel production, while still qualifying for duty-free treatment in the US market. Without this extension, thousands of workers, mainly women, were at risk of losing jobs in very poor countries. <br/><br/>"Congress did the right thing and offered a generous extension of trade benefits for Africa and other countries," said Oxfam America President Raymond C. Offenheiser. "AGOA trade preferences have generated as many as 150,000 garment jobs in some of the poorest countries in the world; cutting this economic lifeline would have been a disaster." <br/><br/>"Oxfam is grateful for the leadership of Chairman Thomas and Rep. Rangel who led the charge in the House," continued Offenheiser. "Special thanks to Senator Mike DeWine, who took a courageous stand on behalf of Haiti, and to Majority Leader Bill Frist who pushed the package through in the Senate despite major obstacles."<br/><br/>Other measures included in the trade package that benefit developing countries include a temporary extension of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), which benefits dozens of developing countries, a short-term extension of trade preferences for Andean countries (Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Bolivia) and normalization of trade relations with Vietnam. The package's inclusion of Haiti in trade preferences is expected to boost Haiti's shrinking apparel sector, a critical industry for the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.<br/><br/>"While we are pleased Congress acted, Oxfam hopes the 110th Congress will look again at improving US trade policies so that developing countries, and poor people, can benefit," said Offenheiser. "Trade can be a powerful engine for growth and reducing poverty, but developing countries need more help to harness the opportunity."