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US Businesses To Advise Blair Commission On Africa

US private industry has been invited to advise the Blair Commission for Africa, the panel set-up by British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The commission will make recommendations prior to the G-8 Summit later this year.

In response to the invitation, the Corporate Council on Africa Thursday convened a meeting between US business representatives and those of the Blair commission. The CCA is a non-profit organization based in Washington that promotes trade and investment between the United States and Africa.

CCA President Steve Hayes says the invitation came as a surprise.

"Yes it did, because my frustration has been that governments often failed to really understand the private sector - even governments and maybe sometimes especially Western governments as much as any. To me there needs to be some far stronger public private cooperation. But I do think that we would be the most logical one they would ask, so. But it was a surprise, yes," he says.

The Corporate Council on Africa says the meeting “marks the first time that a G-8 chairman has formally sought ideas from the US private sector to shape discussion at a G-8 summit.

"I think that the issues that we’re addressing are absolutely key, so I think they’re going to be a big part of it. And I suspect that the recommendations from businesses are going to be heard," he says.

A major issue is Africa’s investment climate, which Mr. Hayes says could be better.

He says, "I think it’s still difficult. I think there are areas where it’s really beginning to improve dramatically. And I think there are other areas that we’re hopeful, but simply haven’t begun to change in the way I think it needs to change. I think it’s going to take some time and I think it’s still difficult."

Nevertheless, he says the continent has a great deal to offer investors.

"I think the continent has extraordinary resources and I don’t mean just extraction industry. I think the population, variety of culture; I think the continent has quite a bit to offer to the global economy. I think the global economy would be far healthier if Africa were far healthier economically," he says.

The Corporate Council on Africa president says the continent has great market potential because of its large population.

Prime Minister Blair – when he established his Commission on Africa last year – said it was the only continent to have grown poorer in the past 25 years. He has promised to make Africa a priority at the next G-8 summit in Scotland in July.