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US / Africa Trade - 2002-05-01

Bush administration officials say African affairs are still high on the agenda - even with the Middle East and Asia dominating U-S politics these days. Christine Elliott takes a deeper look at efforts to strengthen economic and trade ties between the United States and sub-Saharan Africa.

The administration says Africa’s economy is looking up. The assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Walter Kansteiner, says his recent trip to the continent convinced him the African people are ready to do business.

He says, “The only conclusion you can possibly have after having 48 venture capital pitches done to you is that the African private sector, the African businessman and African businesswoman, is alive and well. They are out there, they are ready to rock and roll, they are ready to do a deal, they are ready to make some money.”

Mr. Kansteiner traveled with OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) and State Department officials, as well as six private equity fund managers. He said his visits to Johannesburg (South Africa), Accra (Ghana) and Nairobi (Kenya) convinced him the private sector is Africa’s future.

But he did say just about everywhere he went, he found the people lack some things they need to succeed in a global economy.

Mr. Kansteiner says, “They need three things, and this was almost unanimous. They need one, their governments to get off their back. They need two, capital. And three, they need some technology transfer.”

Assistant U-S Trade Representative Rita Whitaker agrees there are obstacles to Africa’s rapid entry into global markets.

“What we have to work on is the capacity, like the standards, sanitary standards and agriculture. And we have to work on some of the, continue to work on some of the internal domestic policy reforms, and helping them to link, to get into a business network,” he says.

But she says recent growth has exceeded expectations. She says after the adoption of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, non-fuel African imports into the United States rose 97 percent in 2001. Ms. Whitaker says, “The further liberalization globally could even accelerate Africa’s competitiveness and growth. Africa has what many countries don’t have, and that’s access to raw materials.”

Ambassador Jon Hunstman, the deputy US trade representative for Africa, says President Bush hopes to expand on recent trade and investment efforts in sub-Saharan Africa.

Ambassador Huntsman says, “We hope Congress will soon grant the president trade promotion authority, so that we may capture and maintain this momentum. With trade promotion authority, we can do even more to deliver the benefits of open markets to U-S companies and workers, and to the developing world.”

The trade promotion authority would give the president flexibility to negotiate open trade agreements with other countries. In his Saturday morning radio address (4/27), President Bush himself urged Congress to pass the pending legislation quickly.