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Secretary of State Clinton Speaks at the U.S. €" Africa Business Summit

Lafayette Barnes | 10/15/2009, 12:44 a.m.

In an effort to build stronger business and trade relations between the United States and Africa, the Corporate Council on Africa recently held its Seventh Biennial U.S. €" Africa Business Summit at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Northwest.

The Corporate Council on Africa, headquartered in Washigton, D.C., is a membership organization with nearly 200 U.S. corporations that represent roughly 85 percent of American private sector investments in Africa. Stephen Hayes, president and CEO of the Council, said that the organization€s primary goal is to increase and support U.S. business involvement in Africa.

U.S. foreign policy towards Africa under the Bush Administration generally received high marks for its development initiatives. The President€s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), that appropriated over $15 billion to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and malaria on the continent, and the establishment of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) that awarded approximately $2.5 billion in grants to support economic development, good governance, and infrastructure projects in qualifying African compact countries, have received praise. However, historically the U.S. has provided a relatively small percentage of its total world wide foreign assistance to African countries and U.S. businesses lag behind European, Chinese, and India€s private sector investments in Africa.

The Summit€s theme, €Realizing the Investment Power of Africa,€ was supported by a plethora of diverse, and substantive programs, as well as networking time to effectively showcase and identify potential business opportunities on the African continent. Nearly 1,300 participants attended including seven African presidents, African and U.S. high level government officials, multinational corporations and business leaders and international nonprofit executives.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke at the Summit about the significance of U.S.€" African relations and articulated a new engagement strategy for the continent. Clinton said the Obama Administration seeks engagement €that is built on shared responsibility and shared opportunity and on partnerships that produce measurable and lasting results.€ She urged U.S. companies to move beyond the past stereotypes of Africa as a continent dominated by corruption and poverty, to a more diverse and dynamic one built on good governance, stable markets, and economic opportunity. This is a point that the Secretary has underscored since her trip to seven African countries in August.

Clinton also encouraged African leaders and businesses to open up their borders in order to expand Inter-African trade relations. She said that €it is absolutely clear that if African countries started to trade with one another, they would quickly have more increase in GDP than they could ever imagine by just bilateral agreements with Europe and the U.S.€

Regarding U.S.€"Africa trade relations, Secretary Clinton said that she plans to maximize opportunities created by trade preference programs like the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) which if expanded properly could lead to greater access of African exports, especially non-petroleum goods, into the U.S. market. An increase in exports of non-petroleum products like coffee, fruits, and textiles to the United States would greatly benefit those non-oil producing countries.

She also emphasized the importance of building and modernizing Africa€s underdeveloped airports, roads and telecommunication infrastructure sector. This is essential if African governments are to become more competitive and efficient partners doing business on the continent and around the world.

The Corporate Council on Africa projects that Africa€s telecommunication sector will grow by more than $40 billion by the year 2013 and Internet use in South Africa will double by 2014. This sector provides tremendous opportunities for U.S. businesses that are willing to engage their African counterparts, and learn to do business effectively in these markets. To support these and other development projects, Clinton said that President Barack Obama plans to double U.S. foreign assistance to Africa by 2014.

The U.S.€" Africa Business Summit participants applauded the Secretary of State in part because of President Obama who Clinton said €considers himself a son of Africa because of his father€s lineage and wants to see positive changes.€ Secretary Clinton reinforced this point by saying €We want to look back after the Obama Administration and be able to say we made a difference.€

This statement should go a long way towards building the trust and cooperation among African and American business leaders that will be necessary for them to make a difference in Africa. One that is based on shared responsibility, opportunity, and lasting results. For more information about the Corporate Council on Africa and the Seventh Biennial U.S. €" Africa Business Summit, visit www.africacncl.org.