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News Briefs

U.S. Trade Act Benefits Uganda


Uganda is banking its future on 1,400 young women plucked from their villages around the country and plopped down in front of row upon row of sewing machines at a vast factory here outside the capital. These are the AGOA girls, as the Ugandans call them, named for the American trade legislation that lured their employer, Tri-Star Apparel, here from Sri Lanka.

To hear President Yoweri Museveni tell it, AGOA, the African Growth and Opportunity Act approved by the U.S. Congress in 2000, is the best thing the West has done for Africa since independence.

AGOA, which reduced or eliminated U.S. tariffs and quotas on more than 1,800 products, has drawn similar factories across Africa as foreign investors, mostly from Asia, seize upon its incentives to give this underdeveloped continent a chance.

For workers, the jobs can be as grueling as a day in the fields, still Africa’s most common way of making a living. The Tri-Star workers, all new to formal employment, say their shoulders ache and their feet swell by quitting time, which bosses sometimes extend into the evening if a big deadline looms.

But at least they have work. Job creation has been dramatic. For the first time in some African countries, the largest employer is no longer the national government but a private enterprise. Kenya has projected 50,000 AGOA-related jobs.

Microsoft May Settle with EU


Microsoft has given its strongest signal yet that it hopes to reach a settlement of the European Union’s long-running antitrust case.

“We have come to Brussels not only to discuss the issues but to work things out,” Microsoft’s general counsel, Brad Smith, said Thursday. Microsoft made an eight-hour presentation during the second day of a three-day hearing over accusations that its dominance in operating software unfairly blocked rivals’ products.

“We really do look forward, not just to the next day and a half,” Smith said, “but to the weeks that follow, and we will bring to these weeks a great sense of energy and creativity to explore every possible way to come to solutions to the questions and concerns that people may have Smith .”

Although Microsoft has said for months that it is cooperating with the commission in the hope of settling the case, there has been little evidence of any progress toward such.

But a person close to the European Commission’s antitrust regulators said that the company’s statement Thursday indicated that Microsoft was more eager to reach an agreement than it has been in the last four years.

Russia Affirms Rights to Property


The Russian government went on a charm offensive Thursday, with Kremlin aides and international financial aid officials saying the country was not headed toward a reversal on private property after the arrest of the country’s wealthiest businessman.

“The president underlined that there would be no deprivatization,” Andrei N. Illarionov, a senior Kremlin economic adviser, told the Interfax news agency Thursday. Illarionov, who is widely viewed as a liberal economic sounding board for President Vladimir V. Putin, said the arrest last month of Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, the richest of Russia’s billionaires, did not reflect selective justice. “There is no basis to suppose that the use of laws is selective or will be selective,” Illarionov said, as reported by Interfax news agency.

Khodorkovsky was arrested on Oct. 25 on charges of fraud, embezzlement and evasion of $1 billion in taxes, crimes that prosecutors contend were committed in Russia’s privatization era in the 1990s.