The United States will host an annual forum next month that brings together political and economic leaders from Africa and the U.S. to discuss trade and other business opportunities. The annual forum is held under the African Growth and Opportunity Act, adopted by Congress to liberalize trade between the United States and sub-Saharan African countries.
U.S. Under Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer says the African Growth and Opportunity Act, known as AGOA, has been successful in increasing U.S.-Africa trade. She told reporters in Washington Thursday that U.S. imports from AGOA countries last year were up 44 percent over the previous year.
Since it was signed into law six years ago, 37 Sub-Saharan African countries have qualified for the trade benefits that AGOA offers.
Frazer says AGOA is a key component of President Bush's broader policy to promote growth and development in Africa.
"President Bush continues to see AGOA as a component of his policies to address economic growth and development in Africa," she said. As you know, those policies include trade, they include the Millennium Challenge Account, increases in foreign assistance at historic levels, over $4 billion. It also includes what we are going to do at this AGOA Forum, which is initiative on unleashing the private sector."
Frazer says the business climate in Africa still lags behind other parts of the world. For example, she says, it takes longer and costs more to start a new business in Africa. She says the 2006 AGOA Forum from June 6 to June 7 hopes to address some of these concerns.
"This brings me to the theme of this year's forum, which is "The Private Sector and Trade: Powering Africa's Growth." We have chosen this theme, because we firmly believe that the real driving force that will help Africa reach its full potential is not foreign assistance, but the energy and initiative taken by Africans themselves through a vibrant private sector," Frazer said.
Stephen Hayes, president of the Corporate Council on Africa, a private group promoting U.S.-Africa trade, says U.S. companies have failed to take full advantage of the opportunities that AGOA presents.
"American companies have lost market share this past year in Africa. And to me, there is very little rational reason for that to happen," he said. "So, we are to be encouraging American companies, and we are to use AGOA as an investment tool, not only to build their own businesses, and not only to help economic development in Africa, which I think could be, but also to help their own businesses in the United States."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will deliver the opening remarks at this year's AGOA Forum.
Some of the workshops will address topics such as U.S. and African energy and transport infrastructure projects, protecting intellectual property rights, and agricultural exports to the United States and South-to-South, among other issues.