WASHINGTON - Business leaders from African nations are visiting key U.S. energy and transportation facilities, seeking ideas and contacts to solve problems that slow economic development. It is an effort to boost U.S. investment in Africa and increase economic growth and employment on both sides of the Atlantic.
Trade and investment issues are an important part of a summit between President Barack Obama and many African leaders that will take place early in August in Washington.
Business leaders from African nations have been visiting U.S. airports and energy facilities over the last couple of years.
They are seeking solutions for their countries' infrastructure problems, as well as business contacts and investors who could provide new technology and financing.
More inspection trips are planned, including visits to energy facilities in Houston and Chicago's O’Hare airport just before the Washington summit.
The head of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, Leocadia Zak, said solving infrastructure problems would help African economies grow faster because farmers and others could get their products to market more easily.
“The cost of transportation is really inhibiting their ability to market those goods successfully in the region as well as in their own country,” said Zak.
Given the right conditions, African markets can flourish. For example, the number of mobile phones in Africa has soared from 15 million to 800 million since 2000, according to a scholar at the Atlantic Council.
J. Peter Pham said such growth is aided by Africa's natural resources and fast-growing population, which already tops one billion people. He said Africa’s population eventually may exceed that of India or China and change global markets.
"It [Africa] is a very young population -- by mid-century a quarter of the world’s workers will be in Africa. So it will be a locus of production and jobs as well as a potential marketplace," said Pham.
That's why the U.S. is bringing together hundreds of CEOs from both sides of the Atlantic in search of investment opportunities in Africa, according to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Linda Thomas-Greenfield.
“We hope this is a transactional event where leaders will leave and CEOs leave with some ideas how they might move forward in a proactive way on investment in the continent,” she said.
Some African nations are major oil and mineral producers, and many of their exports go to China.
China has invested billions of dollars in Africa over the past decade, and along with the European Union has replaced the U.S. as Africa’s largest trading partner.
Beijing's expanding influence in Africa worries some critics who say China does little to promote human rights and good governance.
Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield said Chinese investment could be good if it leads to more development and jobs for Africans.
She said skillful bargaining with potential foreign investors and stronger efforts to clean up corruption will help Africa prosper.