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USTR Leads Trade and Investment Talks with Largest African Regional Economic Community

Lusaka, Zambia - U.S. trade and development officials held in-depth discussions today with officials from the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) to review progress on their work together under the U.S.-COMESA Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA). This was the sixth high-level meeting under the TIFA, which provides a forum for advancing cooperation on trade and investment issues between the United States and COMESA.

Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Africa Florizelle Liser and COMESA Secretary-General Sindiso Ngwenya co-chaired the day-long meeting, which examined collaborative efforts such as work on implementation of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), cooperation in the World Trade Organization, trade capacity building, and issues related to biotechnology, investment, and the business environment. The two sides also discussed aspects of the Obama Administration's unfolding plans for promoting global food security, especially how these efforts might best promote greater regional agricultural trade in the COMESA region.

"COMESA has been a leader in sub-Saharan Africa in advancing regional economic integration and greater intra-African trade," said Liser. "COMESA is an important partner on trade and development issues, and the U.S. Government has supported its efforts to create a unified regional market among its members and to use trade to bolster economic development. Today's meeting provided an opportunity to review our progress on issues such as AGOA and two-way trade and investment, as well as to deepen our partnership on increasingly important topics such as biotechnology development and trade policies and the trade-related aspects of food security."

In addition to officials from USTR, the U.S. delegation to the meeting in Lusaka included U.S. Ambassador to Zambia Donald Booth, who is also the U.S. Special Representative to COMESA, and officials from the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

BACKGROUND

COMESA, with 19 member states, is the largest regional economic organization in Africa. The United States and COMESA signed a TIFA in October 2001 and have held six high-level meetings under the TIFA since then, including the meeting that took place in Lusaka on November 2.

Total two-way trade between the United States and the member countries of COMESA in the first eight months of 2009 was valued at $8.6 billion, down 27 percent from the corresponding period in 2008, reflecting the global economic crisis. This compares to a 29 percent drop in U.S. trade with the world during the same period. The leading U.S. exports to the COMESA region are cereals, machinery (including electrical), aircraft, motor vehicles, optical and medical instruments, and mineral fuels. U.S. imports from COMESA countries include oil, apparel, coffee, cereals, oleaginous nuts/fruits, and precious stones. Fourteen COMESA countries are eligible for benefits under AGOA. In the first eight months of 2009, U.S. imports from COMESA countries under AGOA and the Generalized System of Preferences were valued at $637 million, down seven percent from the same period in 2008.

U.S. trade capacity building assistance for COMESA member countries totaled $161 million from FY06 through FY08. USAID's Regional Mission in East Africa has been providing direct funding and technical assistance to COMESA for work in trade and investment, infrastructure, and agriculture since 1998 and recently signed a $7.5 million agreement with COMESA. In addition, USAID's Global Competitiveness Hubs in Nairobi, Kenya and Gaborone, Botswana provide support for COMESA regional initiatives and for businesses in the COMESA region seeking to take advantage of trade opportunities provided under AGOA.