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According to US Deputy Secretary of State, John J Sullivan, Africa is the major market of the future. Between today and 2050, roughly half of the world’s population growth will occur in Africa, and that means a projected 1.2 billion new consumers will enter the African market. These trends, combined with Africa’s growing youth population, will allow African countries to capitalize on a growing labour force.

AfCFTA the star of AGOA Forum

Speaking at the recent Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Forum held in Washington DC, Sullivan pointed out that the growing opportunities on the continent will come with challenges, including the need to provide jobs for the growing population. Expansion of trade and investment will be critical to meeting this challenge, he said.

“Africa is home to some of the fastest-growing economies in the world with expanding retail sectors and a record level of foreign investment. And the United States, as the largest economy in the world, sees boundless opportunities for Africa. It’s in our mutual interest for markets to expand and we encourage candid discussions on this topic over the next two days,” Sullivan told delegates.

South African Minister of Small Business Development, Lindiwe Zulu, said that South Africa remains committed to the implementation of the AGOA Partnership and deepening practical co-operation at enterprise to enterprise level. “This co-operation will provide opportunities for local SMMEs to participate in regional and global value-chains and build their capacities to compete globally,” she said.

The star of the conference was the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), being cited by all the ministers attending as a game changer for the continent.  “The increase in intra-regional trade supports the emergence of regional value-chains and increase productive capacity in Africa. This presents opportunities for co-operation at a practical business to business level with the US on infrastructure and industrial development towards a partnership that is mutually beneficial to both sides,” said South African Minister of Trade and Industry, Rob Davies.

“The signing last March of a framework agreement for the African Continental Free Trade Agreement was a milestone in advancing regional integration. We applaud these efforts but also recognize that much work lies ahead to bring this agreement into effect. The United States stands ready to partner with African countries that are committed to reducing barriers to trade and investment. In doing so, we hope to encourage policy reforms that increase openness and competitiveness within Africa and promote greater prosperity and higher living standards across the continent,” Sullivan said.

Civil society and the private sector also submitted recommendations to the Forum. Civil society recommended, among other things, that the US Government must ensure that regional economic integration projects, advance industrialisation and encourage backward and forward linkages, technology and skills transfer to help develop local value chains in line with international standards on human rights, labour laws and gender equality.

The ministers representing various African countries raised a concern with the erosion of AGOA preferences resulting from the recent Section 232 measures on steel and aluminium, and possibly on automotive and auto components. They therefore called on the US to exempt sub-Saharna Africa exports from Section 232 measures. In addition, the ministers noted with concern the emergence of trade wars which will have negative implications for global trade, especially African countries.

Sullivan told delegates that there remains much more to be done to fully realise the potential of US-Africa trade, adding that one-way tariff preferences can only do so much to drive trade and investment.  “When corporations decide where to invest and do business, much more goes into the equation. US companies value clear rules of the road and a sound business environment.  With the renewal of AGOA until 2025, we have a unique opportunity to use the next several years to build on and go beyond this one programme.”   

Image credit: Flickr / US Department of State

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