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June 25, 2013

Obama Means Business During Africa Trip

by Anita Powell

This is only Obama’s second trip to sub-Saharan Africa, after he made a brief stop in 2009 in the West African nation of Ghana. There, he spoke about the importance of democracy.

This time, his focus is different. The president is expected to talk about economic growth, among other issues, with officials in Africa’s economic powerhouse, South Africa.

Trade between South Africa and the U.S. totaled $22 billion in 2011, according to the U.S. government.  South Africa is a major destination for international brands and also has its own burgeoning industries.

South Africa also benefits from duty-free import status to America, which has allowed the nation to export high-value items such as cars.

South Africa has also made its own move to boost trade by becoming the newest member of BRICS, a group of emerging economies comprising Brazil, Russia, India, and China.

The U.S. consulate in Johannesburg has placed itself squarely in the middle of the bustling Sandton business district, home of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

Senior Commercial Officer Larry Farris says trade between Africa and the U.S. is growing - and changing.

“The interesting thing is, is it’s gone from being, just primarily a focus on import of raw materials and primary products to be one that shows a lot more diversity and a lot more interests in looking at both trade into the US and into South Africa in areas that represent higher value, represent technology, represent a lot of where the growth in the international markets are," said Farris.

Officials could not say what sort of deals Obama may sign while in Africa.  But Farris says the engines of business are churning on the continent.

“I think there’s a lot of excitement about some of the things that are going on in eastern Africa right now, where a number of the countries there have come together, working on free trade agreements, working on increasing connections between their countries, infrastructure and the like, and all of that is really good for business. At the same time, there’s a real focus on that part of the continent on making a really solid business environment," he said.

Whatever happens during Obama’s visit, one thing is sure: this continent is open for business.