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Africans Acknowledge They are not Tapping into Open US Markets

African business and government leaders Monday discussed trade issues at a conference in Washington focusing on the untapped potential of U.S. trade legislation.

Several hundred participants heard speakers say that Africa is not adequately using export opportunities under America's Agoa initiative. The Africa Growth and Opportunity Act passed in 2000 provides duty free access for many African products to the U.S. market. South African trade minister Mandisi Mpahlwa urged African business to do more.

"I would say that even we [in South Africa] have not as yet maximized the full benefit that is possible under Agoa," said Mandisi Mpahlwa. "And part of the work we've been doing has been to identify what those obstacles would have been."

Mpahlwa said bureaucracy and inadequate infrastructure are among the obstacles holding back African exporters.

Ken Ofori-Atta of Ghana told participants that the overall economic situation in Africa is improving.

"I don't think we have looked better than now, maybe except for independence," said Ken Ofori-Atta. "In regard to the macro-economics we are seeing right now, [the things that are good include] interest rates, fiscal restraint, commodity pricing, multi-lateral debt forgiveness, and then democracy."

Holly Vineyard, an Africa specialist in the U.S. commerce department, says American firms identify the absence of intellectual property protection as the main obstacle preventing more American investment in east Africa. Piracy of intellectual property, she says, also hurts African businesses.

"It affects the cloth producers in Ghana, the music industry in Kenya and movie production in South Africa," said Holly Vineyard.

The private sector forum preceded the two-day Agoa meeting at the U.S. state department.