US acting secretary of commerce Rebecca Blank on Wednesday launched the Doing Business in Africa campaign, which aims to help American businesses identify and seize opportunities that will further the country's commercial, trade and investment relationship with the continent.
Blank is currently visiting South Africa to advance elements of US President Barack Obama's "Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa", launched in June.
"Overall, the campaign is about finding new ways to form stronger partnerships for prosperity," Blank said at Wednesday's launch in Johannesburg.
Blank, who has been acting secretary of commerce since June, said that the campaign covers the entire sub-Saharan region. "We expect to be working in many countries as we possibly can on this. There are no exclusions at all," she said.
She said US agencies would work to encourage US companies and African diaspora owned businesses to trade with and invest in Africa through expanded trade promotion programmes tailored towards Africa.
Clean Energy Development and Finance Center
Blank added that the US government recognised that financing assistance was vital to increasing trade and investment in sub-Saharan Africa.
As part of the campaign, agencies like the Overseas Private Investment Agency Corporation (OPIC) will assist with the the establishment of the US-Africa Clean Energy Development and Finance Center in Johannesburg.
The centre aims to provide a coordinated approach to clean energy project development in the region. Specifically, the centre will also coordinate its resources with those of the US private sector, local development banks and private banks.
Blank said that energy was crucial for development, and lauded the South African government for working towards universal access to electricity.
The acting secretary expressed concern at the recent labour unrest in South Africa.
"Any business leader will tell you that their investment and commitment to an area is very strongly related to their sense of political and economic stability in that area. South Africa has been a gateway to the rest of the continent in part because it has had a growing and stable economy.
"Certainly the recent labour issues that have arisen are a great concern," Blank said. "From my perspective, my main concern is that you want to create a sense of stability ... US businesses watch these things on the news and it affects their view of whether South Africa looks like a place to bring their next investment."
Africa Growth and Opportunity Act
Blank said that Obama's administration had stated its strong support for ongoing access to Agoa to be re-signed in 2015.
On a recent visit to South Africa, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said that the US had committed to include South Africa as it prepared to extend the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) beyond 2015.
Agoa is a unilateral trade preference programme enacted by the United States in 2000. The programme also has a Third Country Fabric Provision (TCFP) from which South Africa has been excluded since its inception.
Inclusion of South Africa in the TCFP would enable South African exporters to enjoy Agoa benefits for clothing and to source clothing inputs from countries outside Africa.
Blank noted, however, that re-signing Agoa in 2015 would require "not just administration support but also congressional support.
"There's no question that Congress will look to see whether American business appear to be operating on a level playing field, whether they have access to procurement and to investment opportunities the same as other businesses, and if they feel the answer to that is no, there might well be hesitations in Congress.
"I have every faith that the solid investment in business opportunities will continue to unfold and we will be in a position to strongly support the renewal of Agoa come 2015."
In 2011, US exports to sub-Saharan Africa totalled $21.3-billion, while imports were $74.3-billion, an increase from $17.1-billion and $65-billion in 2010, respectively.
Total trade between the US and Sub-Saharan Africa increased by 16% between 2010 and 2011, while US goods exports to Sub-Saharan Africa were up 4.6% in the first half of 2012 compared to the same period in 2011.
SANews.gov.za and SAinfo