Deepening Our Commercial Engagement with Africa

The Huffington Post

In July, President Obama visited Africa and shared an important message at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi and at the African Union in Addis Ababa. He said “As Africa changes, I’ve called on the world to change its approach to Africa. So many Africans have told me, we don’t want just aid, we want trade that fuels progress. We don’t want patrons, we want partners who help us build our own capacity to grow. We don’t want the indignity of dependence, we want to make our own choices and determine our own future.”

Today, the citizens in countries across sub-Saharan Africa are certainly making their own choices and determining their own futures, represented by the fact that the economies in this region are among the fastest growing in the world. And when it comes to the U.S.-Africa commercial relationship, more than any at other time in history, these countries are not dependent. They are equal stakeholders in our business and trade relationships.

The U.S. and Africa today stand as engines of mutual economic growth and prosperity. African exports of non-petroleum goods since 2009 have doubled, creating and sustaining more than a million jobs in Africa. The U.S. was also a leading driver behind the region achieving a record in foreign direct investment of roughly $80 billion last year.

As the head of the International Trade Administration, an agency whose mandate is to create opportunities for U.S. businesses by promoting international trade and attracting foreign direct investment, I fully understand how African businesses are creating such opportunities. On the U.S. side, goods exports to Africa have increased by nearly 60 percent since 2009, and these exports support 250,000 American jobs.

But today, the total amount of American trade with every country on the African continent is roughly equal to our trade relationship with the single country of Brazil. There is enormous potential for us to do so much more. By deepening our commercial engagement in Africa, we can generate even greater growth and prosperity for Africans and Americans.

Trade Winds — Africa will help ensure that our partnerships continue to deepen and expand. It is the largest-ever U.S. government-sponsored trade mission to Africa, involving approximately 108 U.S. companies. In addition to a business development forum and trade mission in South Africa, Trade Winds will stop in seven other sub-Saharan African countries—Angola, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, and Tanzania. The forum participants will include local and American market experts, Fortune 500 companies, small businesses, and government decision-makers. Our Commercial Service officers and State Department colleagues will organize business networking events with leading industry and government officials at the forum, and matchmaking meetings with potential partners at the trade mission stops. And when it is over, not only will we have conducted the largest trade mission to the African continent in American history, I hope that we will see new trade deals that will benefit the economies of countries on both sides of the Atlantic.

Trade Winds —Africa is a critical element of our Doing Business in Africa (DBIA) Campaign. DBIA was launched as an unprecedented whole-of-U.S. government effort to deepen commercial engagement between the U.S. and African countries. Under DBIA, U.S. companies have announced new deals worth more than $14 billion; the Secretary of Commerce has established the President’s Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa, a federal advisory committee comprised of business leaders that advise the President through the Secretary of Commerce on strengthening commercial engagement between the United States and Africa; and the President has announced the Power Africa campaign, which will work to add 30,000 new megawatts of electricity generation capacity to this part of the world.

Trade Winds — Africa and DBIA reflect the United States’ commitment to further advancing our commercial engagement with Africa. And, perhaps more importantly, they reflect our understanding that deepening our commercial engagement secures our mutual commercial interests. Also importantly, our commercial partnership is essential to the interests of maintaining the international order.

As former president of the World Bank Robert Zoellick once said, “responsible stakeholders recognize that the international system sustains their peaceful prosperity, so they work to sustain that system.” Trade and investment, open markets, and strong institutions have been the core elements of that international system: from Europe, to the Asia-Pacific region, to Latin America. And these are the core elements behind the political and economic development we are seeing and will continue to see in Africa today. Just as with the U.S.-Africa commercial relationship, more than at any other time, Africa is a mutual stakeholder in the international order as well.

As we embark on this historic trade mission, it is important to recognize what Trade Winds — Africa, as well as our larger commercial partnership, represents. That the relationship between the United States and African countries is more mutually beneficial, prosperous, and consequential than it has ever been before. And the trajectory is only pointing upward.


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