Former President, U.S.-Africa Business Center, Sr. Vice President, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
September 22, 2017
As the United States government continues evaluating established global trade agreements that have proven benefits to U.S. jobs and consumers, we are overlooking our trading partners of the future. In addition to the markets in which the U.S. already operates, growth markets in 54 countries spread across Africa have vast potential for expanding American prosperity.
According to the United Nations, by 2050, Africa will add 1.3 billion people to its current population. Nigeria alone is expected to become the third most populous country on earth expanding to over 300 million people. With 3.3% average real GDP growth from 2010-2015, Africa is one of the most rapidly growing economic growth regions in the world. Along with this growth, a dynamic youth population and rapid urbanization, a new middle class and consumer base that is hungry for American-made goods and services has emerged.
This is great news to U.S. companies that are eager to produce for these expanding markets. Promoting economic growth through increased trade and investment is mutually beneficial to the U.S. and African countries by opening and expanding new markets, increasing private investment, and creating jobs in the U.S. and on the continent.
Despite these opportunities, the U.S. hasn’t focused on Africa. With every passing day, we lose market share to competition from China, the EU, and the rest of the BRIC nations. While China has grown to Africa’s largest economic partner, and Economic Partnership Agreements between the EU and African countries are expanding market access for U.S. competitors, the U.S. is sitting on the sidelines.
However, for the past decade, the U.S. Chamber has been pushing the pro-Africa investment story to its members. In 2017 alone, we hosted eight African heads of state and countless ministers, and we’ve made 10 trips to the continent to engage directly with the local business community. Furthermore, we continue to expand our American Chamber of Commerce network in Africa with over 20 chapters to date.
To enable the U.S. to up its game in Africa, we must do a few things first as outlined in a paper sent by the U.S. Africa Business Center to the Trump administration earlier this year. These are top line issues that will spur manufacturing in the U.S., create new partners across Africa, and help American firms of all sizes compete with the likes of Brazil, Turkey, and China across Africa:
- Enhance U.S.-Africa bilateral and regional engagements
- Improve the ease of doing business for U.S. companies
- Focus on infrastructure
- Boost Africa’s digital transformation
- Add value to Africa’s agricultural sector
- Advance trade facilitation and customs modernization
Commercial advocacy should be driven by the White House in addition to the State and Commerce Departments. We greatly value the work of all of the branches of the U.S. government for all that they do to support the expansion of U.S. trade with Africa.
But President Trump knows better than anyone that when you have the CEO in charge of an issue--or in this case an opportunity--that can make up for years of neglect.
It was encouraging to see the president and members of his administration engage with African leaders on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, expressing his willingness to work with them to promote trade and business growth throughout the continent.
We feel strongly that, in partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the executive should lead an executive trade mission to Africa to strike new deals and to help existing ones come to closure.
In addition, the president should mandate that once a year, each cabinet secretary with an international portfolio make a multi-country trip to Africa, ideally with a business delegation.
Together, we can ensure that all of the countries of Africa will be partners with the U.S. in establishing the peace and prosperity that all of our citizens deserve.
About the authors
Scott Eisner is president of the U.S.-Africa Business Center (USAfBC) at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.