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"Toward a New U.S.-African Partnership on Trade and Development"

08/03/2009 - 10:01am

This morning, the following Kenyan newspapers have run an op-ed by Ambassador Ron Kirk on US-Africa trade issues:

The Nation
The Standard
The Kenya Times
Nairobi Star
The People Daily
East Africa

Read the op-ed below.

Toward a New U.S.-African Partnership on Trade and Development

In his address to the Ghanaian Parliament last month, President Obama laid out his vision for a new U.S.-African partnership, one that includes "supporting development that provides opportunity for more people."

This week in Nairobi, I will attend the 8th African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Forum, as will Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, senior U.S. and African officials, and representatives of the private sector and civil society.  At the Forum, we will discuss ways to advance the U.S.-Africa partnership on trade and development.

AGOA, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton in 2000, eliminates duties on almost everything eligible African countries export to the United States.  It also provides a framework for U.S.-African cooperation on economic issues.

The theme of this year's AGOA Forum is "Realizing the Full Potential of AGOA through Expansion of Trade and Investment."

This is a difficult time for exporters around the world, and Africa is no exception.  I am committed to finding new solutions to the challenges facing African exporters and new ways to realize the potential of AGOA.

This is the first AGOA Forum of the Obama Administration, and it is an opportune time to discuss new strategies that can build on AGOA's achievements and set a new path for U.S.-Africa trade and investment.

Here are some key considerations that I think should be taken into account as we move forward:

We need to find new and more effective ways to promote African competitiveness. The experience of developing countries in Asia suggests that African countries need to expand and diversify their trade in order to generate and sustain economic growth.  Africans can become more competitive internationally by improving the business environment in their countries and nurturing entrepreneurial initiative, including through simplification and modernization of border procedures.  An ambitious and balanced outcome of the World Trade Organization's Doha Round negotiations could also help Africa to reap more benefits from the global trading system.

The challenge in improving AGOA is utilization. AGOA has helped to grow and diversify U.S.-African trade.  African exports to the United States now include apparel, footwear, processed food products, and other value-added products.  Still, we know that more can be done to expand AGOA trade across more countries and more product sectors.  The answer is not expanding the list of AGOA products - almost everything is already covered - but in increasing the utilization of AGOA.  We will do our part by providing trade-related technical assistance.  African governments and businesses can help to make the most of AGOA by developing joint export development strategies in specific product sectors.

A healthy, sustainable U.S.-Africa relationship must be built on expanded trade in both directions. Thanks to AGOA, the U.S. market - the largest single-country market for African goods - is more open to African products than ever before.  Africans can help to put our long-term trade and investment relationship on a stronger footing by intensifying efforts to address trade barriers affecting U.S. exporters in their countries.  We will need to work together to find ways to level the playing field for U.S. exporters and increase two-way trade.

Regional economic integration is critical to Africa's future. Last October, the leaders of more than two dozen African countries committed to work toward a regional free trade area stretching from the Mediterranean to the Cape of Good Hope.  These and other efforts toward regional integration hold the promise of boosting intra-regional trade and improving investment prospects in Africa, as well as African competitiveness.  The United States will work with African regional organizations and their member countries to support these initiatives.

Aid for Trade must be a priority for both donors and beneficiary countries. The Obama Administration is committed to supporting trade capacity building assistance, also known as "Aid for Trade," to help African countries make the most of global trade opportunities.  Last year, the United States provided over a billion dollars in trade capacity building assistance to sub-Saharan Africa.  African countries must also do their part by making trade a priority in their development programs and ensuring that funds are wisely targeted.

As President Obama said in Ghana, what we are trying to achieve with our African partners is "more than growth numbers on a balance sheet."  We are working to create opportunities, new jobs, and brighter futures for Africans and Americans alike.

Trade can be a powerful tool for realizing Africa's economic development priorities.  The United States is committed to working with our African partners to ensure that trade and development work hand-in-hand.