Africa Remains Big Opportunity for American Business

July 26, 2012 By Meghan Simonds

Testimony from top officials at several export and trade-related agencies and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce yesterday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee underscored that Africa remains a tremendous opportunity for American trade and investment.  During the hearing chaired by Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), the Chairman of the African Affairs Subcommittee, Senators and witnesses alike agreed that Africa has vast economic potential and the U.S. must do more to fully capitalize this market.

The hearing is the second in a series exploring Africa’s economic potential and considering U.S. policy to increase regional investment and trade.  Panelists included Francisco Sanchez, Under Secretary of International Trade at the Department of Commerce; Elizabeth Littlefield, President and CEO of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation; Fred Hochberg, Chairman of the Export-Import Bank; Scott Eisner, Vice President of African Affairs and Operations at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Stephen Hayes, President and CEO of The Corporate Council on Africa; and Dr. Mwangi Kimenyi, Senior Fellow and Director of the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution.

The hearing also focused on bipartisan legislation (S. 2215) introduced earlier this year by Senators Coons, Dick Durbin (D-IL) and John Boozman (R-AR) aimed at increasing U.S. exports to Africa by over 200 percent in the next decade.  All of the witnesses shared their support for the goals of the bill, with some offering constructive critiques on specific agency-related portions.

Senator Coons stressed that our success investing in Africa is about “showing up” and ensuring that American businesses have the tools and resources they need to harness this opportunity, which has significant benefits in terms of creating American jobs.  Several of the witnesses will be part of a business delegation to Africa with Secretary Clinton next month focused on our trade and investment with the southern region of the continent.

The opportunities in Africa, however, do not come without challenges for U.S. companies, including the protection of intellectual property rights, rule of law, transparency, corruption, and Chinese competition – which remains the greatest threat to our trade and investment in the region.  Senator Coons shared that “just last week, China announced it would provide $20 billion in loans to African governments over the next three years to encourage investment in infrastructure and agriculture, which more than doubles the financial commitment China made to Africa in 2009.”

Eisner with the Chamber put it best when he stated that our discussion about trade and investment in Africa has everything to do with “the International Affairs Budget and its relationship to economic statecraft.”  “The International Affairs Budget,” he continued, “plays a vital role in enabling the role for U.S. companies to tap foreign markets and create jobs and prosperity at home.  And at a time while export opportunities represent a potential lifeline to the U.S. economy and a motor for domestic job creation, these international programs are more important than ever.”