Washington — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton opened the 11th U.S.-Sub-Saharan Africa Trade and Economic Forum, also known as the AGOA Forum, in Washington with remarks applauding the great success of the pivotal economic development program.
"AGOA has helped to increase trade and investment and opened new doors of opportunity," Clinton said during the forum at the State Department June 14. "It's led to new jobs, the rise of new sectors and new business opportunities for people in every country represented here, as well as the United States."
In 2011, the secretary said, U.S. imports from AGOA countries were more than six times higher than they were 10 years ago. Since AGOA's start in 2000, two-way trade between United States and sub-Saharan Africa has seen a 300 percent increase, reaching a total of more than $716 billion. U.S. trade with the region hit $95 billion in 2011 alone, and Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis said in a June 13 news briefing that 2012 is set to be another record year.
Clinton said trade between Africa and the rest of the world has also grown exponentially, tripling during the past 10 years as private foreign investment at last surpassed official aid.
She said the global investment in Africa is set to continue rising because the continent offers the highest rate of return on foreign direct investment of any developing region in the world.
"In fact, it is the only developing region where the growth rate is expected to rise this year," Clinton said.
Africa is one of the fastest growing regions on the globe, home to six of the world's 10 fastest growing economies.
"The middle class is growing, consumer spending is increasing, urban centers are becoming vital economic hubs," Clinton said, adding that Africa is the 21st century "continent that is the land of opportunity."
But in spite of the progress made, there remains a great deal more potential for trade and investment across Africa, she said.
She highlighted the importance of infrastructure development, which is the theme of this year's forum. The secretary said that for Africa to realize its full potential, it will need to focus on developing its physical infrastructure, such as roads, ports and modern electrical grids.
Equally critical, Clinton said, will be improvements in regulatory infrastructure that make it easier to do things like register new businesses or get a construction permit.
Finally, she said, it is important for Africa to focus on investing in its human infrastructure.
"At a time when 60 percent of the people of sub-Saharan Africa are under 25 and millions of them are out of work, there has to be a concentrated effort by all of us to help equip these young people, to support them, because our economies and our societies need their talents, their energy and their ideas," Clinton said.
"The same is true for women," she said, adding that supporting women entrepreneurs can lead to a "multiplier effect" for growing economies. Clinton said that's one reason why the United States is a "strong supporter of women's economic empowerment not only in Africa, but worldwide."
The secretary announced a new partnership between the African Women's Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP) and Intel, the Exxon Mobil Foundation, a nongovernmental organization called Vital Voices and the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women to give women more access to digital literacy training, business training and professional mentoring.
"Through programs like AWEP and the partnerships made possible by AGOA, we can see economic transformation with our own eyes," Clinton said. The women's entrepreneurship program takes place in the United States June 4-23, and the participants are currently in Washington to take part in AGOA talks.
Clinton announced also the designation of the first Global Economic Statecraft Day, which she said highlights the importance of economic issues as a key element of U.S. foreign policy.
"Our diplomats are engaging more on economic matters worldwide because we all know economic forces are increasingly shaping our world and our economies will be more and more interdependent," she said.
The secretary addressed the issue of third-country fabrics, a critical provision of AGOA that provides significant support to the textile and apparel sectors that is set to expire in September. She said the provision has widespread support in the United States and the State Department is working closely with its partners in Congress to accelerate the renewal process. She expressed confidence that the provision will be renewed successfully.
Clinton said earlier in the day, President Obama signed a new policy directive on sub-Saharan Africa outlining a strategy for countries to work in partnership to reach shared goals and solve challenges.
"It's not only about economic growth but also democratic progress, improved security, development gains because, all taken together, we will strengthen the security, the prosperity and the democracies across Africa," Clinton said. "By doing so, [we] will help to fulfill that dream of a future of peace, freedom, prosperity and dignity for all Africans."
The secretary's address followed remarks by U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Ghanaian Minister of Trade Hanna Tetteh.
The 2012 forum is bringing together more than 600 participants, including top U.S. and African government officials, private sector leaders and civil society representatives. It was preceded by a two-day civil society program June 12-13 in Washington and complemented by the African Women's Entrepreneurship Program. The Corporate Council on Africa will host its infrastructure conference June 18-20 in Washington, and the U.S.-Africa Business Conference will be held in Cincinnati, Ohio, June 21-22.
AGOA, the African Growth and Opportunity Act, signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton in 2000, was designed to promote U.S. trade and investment ties with sub-Saharan Africa. It provides trade preferences to the 40 participating African countries through the removal of nearly all tariffs on their exports. It has broken down many trade and customs barriers in an effort to stimulate economic growth, encourage economic integration and help bring sub-Saharan Africa into the global economy.