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US Trade Mission Seeks to Boost Investment in Africa

FILE - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and entrepreneur Patricia Nzolantima point at an ultrasound machine during a tour of a Sustainable Investment in Sub-Saharan Africa medical supply store in Kinshasa, DRC, May 3, 2014.

U.S. officials accompanied by representatives from more than 100 U.S. companies are winding up a week-long trade mission to Africa with stops in the continent's eight leading economies, including South Africa.

With more than 150 representatives from 108 American companies, the delegation is part of the Trade Winds initiative, a program of the U.S. Department of Commerce aimed at exposing U.S. companies to investment opportunities in sub-Saharan Africa.

While U.S. President Barack Obama has made boosting trade ties with the continent a priority, one trade expert says it will take more than a single trip for U.S. companies to clinch lucrative investment deals — especially with Chinese companies already investing heavily in some African countries.

“Africa’s dire financial constraints at the moment present a massive opportunity for investors," said Theo Josias, head of business development at Sizwe Ntsaluba Gobodo, a South-Africa-based investment advisory firm. "The governments are giving a lot in terms of incentives, a lot in terms of wanting to make sure that they bring in people into the territory.”

By identifying sectors most in need of investment, such as energy and infrastructure, Josias says U.S. companies can capitalize on the weaknesses of their foreign competitors already rooted in Africa.

According to Marcus Jadotte, U.S. assistant secretary of commerce for industry and analysis who is leading the trade mission, the U.S. interest is focused on long-term investments

“We're focused on local workforce development, supporting the development of infrastructure and investing in the communities in which we do business,” he said, adding that efforts are being made to boost the sheer number of U.S. companies already invested on the continent.

American companies are already visible in many African countries, with close to 600 of them in South Africa.

The U.S. Commerce Department says it has doubled its presence on the continent and will soon be opening an office in Ivory Coast.