Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis recently traveled to Liberia. Below, he writes about a textile factory he visited and the importance of its impact on Liberian women.
I am excited to be blogging about International Women’s Day.
I recently returned from a trip to Liberia, a country that suffered nearly two decades of civil war before returning to peace just six years ago. It was my first visit, and I left the country inspired and hopeful for its future. Liberia is a country where women are leading their nation on a path of peace, development, and economic growth. The world knows Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as Africa’s first woman President and an historic leader. The President’s Cabinet is also led by women in many key ministerial positions, including my counterpart, Minister of Commerce and Industry Miata Beysolow.
Ambassador Marantis with Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
The women working for Liberia’s future are not just government officials, but women in all sectors helping the country in their own way. One unforgettable place I visited was Liberian Women’s Sewing Project, a women-owned cooperative that produces apparel for export to the United States. What was once a pillaged and bullet-ridden building, now houses an amazing business that trains and employs over thirty women, pays them a good wage, and provides basic health care and a bag of rice as employee benefits. As a cooperative, it gives them a stake in a business that makes beautiful, high-quality shirts while helping make Liberia a better place.
What made the Liberian Women’s Sewing Project especially meaningful to me was to see how our trade policy could have a direct impact on people’s lives. When I was in Monrovia, I announced that the United States had granted Liberia an apparel visa under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). This means that Ambassador Kirk determined that Liberia has adopted an effective textile monitoring and control regime that qualified Liberian textile and apparel exports to receive duty-free treatment when they enter the United States.
Liberian Women's Sewing Project Worker
Maybe an AGOA apparel visa sounds esoteric, but it has a real practical impact for the women I met. With this visa regime in place, apparel made by producers like the Liberian Women’s Sewing Project will become more affordable for American consumers and more competitive globally. That, in turn, will bring more tangible benefits to the Liberian women who work there and their families.
Photos of Liberian Women's Sewing Project Workers
I was honored to meet the women of the Liberian Women’s Sewing Project and share their story on International Women’s Day. It is just another example of how women’s hard work and ingenuity, together with good policy, can make a world of difference.
Liberian Women's Sewing Project T-shirt