Creating American Jobs through Exports to Africa

May 9, 2012 By Joel Paque

Promoting exports to Africa is the subject of recently introduced bipartisan and bicameral legislation aimed at creating American jobs. Senators John Boozman (R-AR), Chris Coons (D-DE), and Dick Durbin (D-IL), along with Representatives Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Bobby Rush (D-IL) in the House, have crafted legislation that would seek to increase U.S. exports to Africa through a combination of better coordination of U.S. strategy towards exports to Africa and increased financing to help small and medium businesses tap into this rapidly growing market.

Senator Durbin and Representative Smith spoke about their bills at the Brookings Institution on Tuesday, and emphasized that this isn’t just about helping African economies develop, but about keeping America competitive. “Since 2000, Chinese exports to Africa have outgrown U.S. exports to Africa by a ratio of 3 to 1. And it’s not just China—Europeans, Indians, they all have a plan for Africa. America does not,” said Durbin. Senator Durbin is right—in fact Turkey, which has a comprehensive national plan to become one of the 10 largest economies in the world by 2023, has recently increased its efforts to tap into Africa’s growing markets.

This isn’t the first time Congress has addressed U.S. economic engagement with Africa, but Representative Smith said this new legislation would differ from the decade-old African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which he said “lacked balance” by primarily focusing on strengthening African economies and not on the potential job growth in the U.S. possible with increased trade.  This new legislation would “address this important aspect of U.S.-Africa trade by increasing exports to Africa by 200 percent over the next decade.”

If passed, the provisions in the bills would:

  • Establish permanent Export-Import Bank and Commerce Department trade staff on the African continent to support U.S. businesses;
  • Support efforts by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) to open African markets to U.S. businesses;
  • Provide training to commercial service officers and State Department/USAID economic officers on the Ex-Im Bank, OPIC, and U.S. Trade Development Agency; and
  • Coordinate efforts of Ex-Im Bank, OPIC, State Department, Department of Commerce, and Small Business Administration to promote U.S. exports to Africa more effectively.

To be competitive with other nations seeking to invest in Africa, American companies need programs like the Export-Import Bank and OPIC, which can help provide assistance in the face of aggressive investments of other nations. Senator Durbin related a story an African parliamentarian had shared with him about a Chinese bid on a project that offered a 30 percent discount—with the concession that Chinese materials and labor be used. The recently-proposed legislation could be an important part of creating more U.S. jobs, but it’s unlikely to be effective unless the Export-Import Bank, OPIC, and USTDA have the resources to execute its strategy. Hopefully, the same bipartisan consensus that understands the importance of increasing U.S. exports will understand the importance of funding the programs that can do just that.