President, U.S.-Africa Business Center, Sr. Vice President, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
May 25, 2023
Every May 25th, Africa Day is celebrated around the world to honor the African continent's rich history, diverse cultures, and transformative progress. This day commemorates the 1963 founding of the Organization of African Unity, now called the African Union. Africa Day signifies the unity and collective aspirations of African nations, their challenges overcome, and their shared determination to solve problems and unlock Africa’s potential.
This day is an opportune time to also acknowledge the role played by bold initiatives such as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Fittingly, the theme of this year’s Africa Day celebration is the AfCFTA itself. 60 years after the founding of the African Union, the organization has also declared 2023 the year of the African Continental Free Trade Area.
The AfCFTA, Africa’s first continent-wide free trade area established in 2018, aims to eliminate obstacles to intra-African trade, streamline customs procedures, and standardize trade regulations. The AfCFTA’s trade facilitating measures to cut red tape and simplify customs support Africa’s economic diversification, job creation, and sustainable development, and will generate significant economic benefits, enhance consumer well-being, and attract foreign investment to Africa. The AfCFTA is a historic game-changer for both African and global businesses to grow and prosper by more easily accessing the power of the continent’s natural, human, and entrepreneurial richness.
During the 2022 U.S. Africa Business Forum, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AfCFTA Secretariat signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), making the U.S. Chamber the only trade organization in the world to do so. The MoU establishes a joint working group to advance trade and investment between the U.S. and Africa, with a focus on three key areas:
- The digital economy
- Trade facilitation and customs modernization
- Value chains development
The MoU also reaffirms both organizations' commitment to elevating a robust private sector voice in AfCFTA implementation, bringing together the AfCFTA and the U.S. Chamber’s U.S.-Africa Business Center to powerfully drive economic integration and partnership-building across Africa. Together in the MoU, both organizations chart a comprehensive framework for leveraging the immense potential of the continent's markets, people, and resources.
To fully appreciate the potential benefits of the AfCFTA once fully implemented, we must dispel outdated misconceptions of Africa. Many have underestimated and misunderstood Africa's potential as a growth frontier for too long, but not the U.S. Chamber. Last year we were proud to host the U.S.-Africa Business Forum, the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit’s official private sector forum, where American and African firms achieved over $15 billion in trade and investment deals. The U.S. Chamber commended the Biden Administration for its enhanced focus on Africa, while also recommending how the U.S., following the success of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, can honor the President's promise to go "all in" on Africa.
Recognizing that small and mediums sized enterprises in the U.S. and Africa are keys to shared prosperity, in September 2022, the Chamber launched the nationwide "Advance with Africa" roadshow to increase U.S. businesses' understanding of commercial opportunities in Africa and help transform the narrative around Africa's business climate. Crucially, Advance with Africa's focus is on empowering minority- and Diaspora-owned small businesses, ensuring equitable growth for both Americans and Africans.
The U.S. Government is also taking notice of the vast talent in the continent that gave rise to mobile money and digital payments: In December, Secretary of State Antony Blinken helped us announce the latest winner of the U.S. Chamber's Africa Digital Innovation Competition, recognizing an African startup that helps ensure rural hospitals have the lifesaving supplies they need.
Clearly, Africa has room for many more entrepreneurs and investors—American and homegrown—and the AfCFTA’s harmonization of policies on e-commerce, investment, and intellectual property, to name a few, would make Africa’s economic future even brighter. The U.S. Chamber stands ready to continue to be a trusted partner in the AfCFTA’s full implementation process.
This Africa Day, like all others, serves as a reminder of the extraordinary progress charted by the African continent and the potential for even more significant achievements. The AfCFTA and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Africa Business Center are excited to continue driving economic integration and nurturing the power of partnerships across the continent.
About the authors
Scott Eisner is president of the U.S.-Africa Business Center (USAfBC) at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.