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Opinion Editorial -- LinkedIn Influencer -- The U.S. and Africa: Awake and Open for Business

Wednesday, August 7, 2014

Op-Ed by Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker

Opinion Editorial, LinkedIn Influencer
The U.S. and Africa: Awake and Open for Business

Yesterday, the Department of Commerce and Bloomberg Philanthropies co-hosted the first-ever U.S.-Africa Business Forum, an extraordinary event attended by President Obama, President Clinton, more than 40 African government leaders, and nearly 200 CEOs from some of the most successful companies on both continents. The Forum was part of the 2014 U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, the largest gathering of African heads of state ever hosted by an American president.

The Forum was focused on expanding U.S. private sector engagement in Africa and strengthening commercial ties between the United States and African nations. As a result of this gathering – and as a sign of American and African businesses’ mutual desire for closer relationships – we saw President Obama announce $14 billion dollars in new private sector investments in clean energy, aviation, banking, and construction supporting economic growth across Africa and tens of thousands of U.S. jobs.

Last year, President Obama traveled to the University of Cape Town to usher in “a new chapter in U.S.-Africa relations.” He called on the students there, along with leaders across the 54 distinct countries of the African Union and the United States, to embrace the key tenets of his vision for our alliance: to strengthen democratic institutions; to advance peace and security; to encourage opportunity and development; and to spur economic growth, trade, and investment.

As America’s Chief Commercial Officer, I feel strongly that this last pillar – the U.S.-Africa economic relationship – is fundamental to our mutual peace and prosperity.

I know many of my colleagues – in the public and private sectors, in business and government, on both sides of the Atlantic – agree. And at yesterday’s Forum, all of the participants shared a deep conviction that the time is now to deepen our ties of trade and investment – because doing so will spur growth across the United States and the countries of Africa.

For instance, investing in Africa will support 2,500 jobs in Pennsylvania for employees of GE Transportation, who will manufacture 293 locomotives for Transnet in South Africa. At the Forum, IBM and Ghana’s Fidelity Bank signed a five-year deal for the provision of IT services. This deal highlights a key facet of our two-way relationship: that when African businesses grow, they deploy American expertise, purchase American technologies, and learn from our best practices.

These types of deals demonstrate that when we work together as partners, in a spirit of mutual understanding and respect, we can raise standards of living for all of our nations and address the challenges that impede our ability to develop closer economic bonds.

With each passing day, our commercial connections are deepening, our business bonds are increasing, and our trade partnership is maturing. Yet, with Africa’s growing middle class, rapidly expanding economies, and rising demand, we have only begun to scratch the surface.

President Obama and the Commerce Department are ready to take our alliance to the next level. That is why, yesterday, I announced a number of new initiatives:

  • We will expand our Foreign Commercial Service presence – deploying more of our economic diplomats on the ground to help American businesses navigate each African market.
  • We announced 10 new trade missions to Africa and 10 reverse trade missions to the United States by 2020.
  • Our National Institute of Standards and Technology will launch the Global City Teams Challenge to create teams of cities and innovators working together on issues like air quality, resource management, health care delivery, and modern energy grids – to utilize the best technology to build “smart cities.”
  • We have created a one-stop shop web portal – – where American businesses can learn about African markets, find financing tools, and discover potential projects, contacts, and resources.
  • We will lead the President's Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa.

We want to make doing business in Africa easier for every business.

This is a moment of opportunity. A decade from now, we will look back at this moment as the start of something important or see a missed opportunity. The choice is up to all of us.

Our work is far from over. But, as one rising South African leader told fellow Young African Leaders and the President last week, “Africa is no longer a sleeping giant but is awake and open for business.” We will continue to strengthen the U.S.-Africa economic partnership. We will work to keep the United States and Africa open for business. Doing so will create more jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.