By Ben Kangwa in Washington DC
The African Growth Opportunity Act , a United States – Sub Saharan Africa Trade and Economic Cooperation partnership widely known as the AGOA Forum held its tenth session in the United States of America from 2 – 6th August, 2010.
The meeting took on a different format from being the usual single venue event to a two venue event held concurrently in Washington DC and the Kansas City of Missouri, a mid western city in America’s heartland.
The meeting in Washington DC took place on 2 – 3 rd August, 2010 while that in Kansas City was held from 4 – 6th August, 2010.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Affairs, Mr. Karl Wycoff described this first ever arrangement in this manner, “We chose to put together this hybrid forum, taking it outside Washington for the first time, to allow a large number of American businesses to get to know their African counterparts in a way they would not if the forum stayed in Washington DC.”
This year’s Forum, whose theme was ’ AGOA at 10: New Strategies For a Changing World’ brought together 600 participants who included senior officials from the United States government and African Ministers of Commerce and Trade from Sub Saharan Africa.
The notable dignitaries were US Secretary of State, Mrs. Hillary Rodham Clinton, US Trade Representative, Ambassador Ron Kirk, out-going Chairperson of AGOA Forum and Kenyan Minister of Trade, Hon. Amos Kimunya, Zambian Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry, Hon. Felix Mutati, Ministers of Trade from Sub Saharan Africa, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Ambassador Johnnie Carson.
Others were the World Bank Managing Director, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Africa Union (AU) Deputy Chairperson, Mr. Erastus Mwencha , the Secretary General of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Mr. Sindiso Ngwenyaas well as their Excellencies, the Ambassadors of African countries accredited to the United States of America including Zambia’s Ambassador Mrs. Sheila Siwela , the Chief Executive Officer of the Millenniun Challenge Corporation (MCC) Mr. Daniel Yohannes, President of the Corporation Council on Africa, Stephen Hayes, President and CEO of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), Ms Elizabeth Littlefield,the US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Ms. Melanne Verveer.
The annual event, which was the tenth since the Forum’s inception a decade ago on May,18th, 2000, saw the African Union Mission to the United States of America host a Ministerial Consultative Group meeting for Ministers from AGOA beneficiary countries a day before the official opening of the 2010 AGOA Forum.
The meeting was for the Ministers from AGOA beneficiary countries who consulted among themselves on a common position for their participation in the ninth AGOA Forum.
It was at this meeting that the handover of the Chairmanship by Kenya to Zambia was discussed and instituted , while Cameroon became Vice Chair and Kenya, Mozambique and Nigeria assumed the role of Rapporteur .
The following day, on 2nd August, 2010 at the Ministerial opening ceremony, the out going AGOA Chairman, Kenyan Trade Minister, Hon. Amos Kimunya in his address noted that the AGOA Forum represented a decade-long partnership between the US and Sub Saharan Africa that had “matured and transformed the relationship beyond trade and economic relations.”
Mr. Kimunya, whose nation hosted the 2009 AGOA Forum in Nairobi, Kenya also stated that AGOA had seen a significant increase of exports from Sub Saharan Africa to the United States since inception although he acknowledged that AGOA trade was still too heavily weighed on oil and minerals.
He informed the meeting that Africans were exporting fewer than 200 products to the United States of America of the more than 6,000 products that were eligible under the Act.
In response to the remarks by the out-going Chairperson, the Zambian Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry, Hon. Felix Mutati re-iterated the importance of AGOA in promoting trade and economic development in Sub Saharan Africa and emphasized the need for AGOA to be viewed as a partnership between the US and Sub Saharan Africa.
He stated that Africa was a continent rich in natural resources and that the potential it offered to foreign markets was greater no than ever before.
In complementing Hon. Mutati’s comments, the Assistant US Trade Representative for Africa, Ms. Florizelle Liser, observed that a decade ago when AGOA was formed, it was clear that the United States wanted to provide more access for Africa’s valued-added products into the American market.
While acknowledging that the US – Africa trade under AGOA had sky-rocketed, Ms. Liser stated that unfortunately most of that trade tended to be in oil and minerals.
And citing the Forum’s theme, “AGOA at 10: New Strategies For a Changing World,” US Trade Representative, Ambassador Ron Kirk, in his address noted that the AGOA Forum represented the highest level of dialogue between the United States and Sub Saharan Africa . He expressed hope that the strategies which the Forum was going to formulate would encompass much of the dynamic change that was occurring in Africa.
He added that there was much evidence today of Africa as a “rising star” and that there was excitement about its promising future.
He noted that many countries in Africa had held democratic elections, introduced democratic leaderships and resolved many deadly conflicts. Additionally, he said most of these countries had also introduced economic reforms and improved business environments whose result was a “surge” in economic growth.
Ambassador Kirk observed that the progress and potential of African economies were reflected in “reduced inflation, lower trade barriers, growing intra-Africa trade, rising capital flows and the creation of substantial new business opportunities” which had led to lower levels of poverty, higher standards of living for all citizens.
He added that the United States remained committed to partnering with Africa in order to address the challenges of poverty, health, education, conflict, governance and economic development .
The keynote address was made on 3rd August, 2010 at the Ronald Reagan Building by US Secretary of State, Mrs. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
In her address, Mrs. Clinton first observed that Africa was a continent on the rise and that the continent was open for business and ready to grow. She referred to countries she said had made progress politically and economically she had visited while attending the eighth AGOA Forum in 2009.
“The hope and progress that I saw are everyday sweeping away old stereotypes and offering the world a new view of Africa, ” she emphasized.
She echoed US Trade Representative Ambassador Ron Kirk’s statement that in more than thirty-eight African countries, democracy was setting base and as a result political and economic stability was being realized adding that in small villages and sprawling cities across Africa, poverty, conflict and corruption were giving away to opportunity, stability and democracy.
The Secretary of State observed that Africa had a determined people who were prepared push Africa towards progress. She noted that in 2009 alone, two-thirds of Sub Saharan African countries had implemented reforms to improve their business climates and that more responsible fiscal policies coupled with increased political stability and rising productivity had spurred both growth and attracted investment.
Mrs. Clinton said, “The AGOA partnership has helped a growing number of African businesses build on this success at home and reach new markets abroad adding that major international corporations were opening new offices in African capitals and opening their eyes to Africa’s investment potential.
Mrs. Clinton noted that over the past decade, child mortality rates had declined, primary school enrollments had increased and at the same time more people had gained access to clean water and fewer people had died in violent conflicts.
She further stated that more than 315 million people were using mobile phones and that technology was creating new opportunities and unlocking untapped potential on the continent everyday.
Mrs. Clinton said after factoring in the global financial crisis, Africa’s economy was expected to grow at a rate of 4.5 percent next year – faster than Latin America, Central Asia, Europe or the United States.
The Secretary of State, however, lamented that AGOA had not lived up to its expectations of a decade ago when it was formed and that it had only achieved modest results noting that oil and oil related products which still accounted for the big bulk of exports from Africa to the United States of America.
In summing up, she said the United States was committed to being a friend and a partner in helping African nations resolve their many challenges.
Under President Obama, she said, the United States was taking a new approach in Africa rooted in partnership and not patronage, in helping nations build capacity and take responsibility and to give the people the tools they need to help themselves and their communities and to empower problem solvers at all levels.
She said AGOA could be a powerful engine for growth if its trade preferences were coupled with effective development programs and reforms that build the capacity for African businesses to succeed in international markets.
“We need both trade and aid, and particularly aid that support trade,” she said.
Praising the 34 women African entrepreneurs who included Zambia’s Slvia Banda, CEO of Sylva Food Solutions Inc. as part of a State Department program, Mrs. Clinton stated that the United States hoped that the US-Africa trade relationship would grow into deeper and more dynamic partnership, but added that Africa’s future belonged to Africans.
She also informed the Forum that there was need for Africa to improve its infrastructure such as the road network and air travel by ensuring the provision of a sufficient supply of electricity, reducing high tariffs and cumbersome border regulations in order to increase trade between the US and Sub Sahara African countries
After the policy meetings in Washington DC, the Forum moved to Kansas City where the African Ministers met face to face with American investors and buyers.
The Ministers spent two days from the 4 – 6th August, 2010 meeting business representatives engaged in the manufacturing of farm equipment, meeting developers and producers of seed. They visited a notable local farm – the Waters Farm where they saw how technology had radically transformed the farm.
Tom Waters and his wife Karla who are owners of the farm discussed the planting, storage and sale of corn, soyabeans and wheat. Some Ministers asked about the US farm policy, while others wanted to know how the 3,500 acres farm had developed over the years.
In addition, there was a one-stop shop exhibition floor for participating countries to exhibit their products to American investors as well as fellow Africans.
Zambia private companies through the Zambia Development Agency (ZDA) exhibited several “Zambian products” such as dried traditional foods, coffee, honey and leather .
The Zambian stand received a big number of visitors who were impressed with the sample products on display and inquired more about the manufacturers, how to place orders and how they could form partnerships.
For example, KANZAM International Inc, a Zambian wholly owned company registered in the USA was interested to store, market and sell products produced by both Sylva Food Solutions Inc and Freshpikt.
Payless, one of America’s biggest shoe outlet and Kumba Bendu and Sons Enterprise from Liberia were both interested in purchasing leather safety boots in bulk on a monthly basis.
Other American companies were Reinke Manufacturing Company Inc, who currently supply irrigation equipment to large scale farmers such as Kafue Sugar Limited, Grainpro Inc who are involved in the manufacturing of organic storage systems and Wenger Manufacturing whose interest is to design and manufacture premium extrusion system for producing cereals, snack foods, pet food and pasta.
After an interactive two days, with businessmen and farmers who are involved in agri-business in Kansas City, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Ambassador Jonnie Carson closed the ninth AGOA Forum with strong words that “ AGOA could be a powerful engine for growth between the US and Africa .”
He called for the need for African governments to deal with the challenges that are hampering increased trade between the two continents.