Cameroon Tribune (Yaoundé)

11 August 2014

Africa: U.S-Africa Summit - 37 Billion Dollars to Boost Trade

President Paul Biya and the impressive government and business delegation which accompanied him last week to the U S/Africa Summit in Washington, DC returned home in an awesome mood. The summit, summoned from August 5-6 to examine ways of improving trade, came up with what many African leaders had least expected; the immediate availability of a whopping 33 Billion U S Dollars announced by President Obama to boost trade and investment. Even if, understandably, the money is to help American businesses provide jobs for Americans, increased trade will definitely benefit many Africans and open up new windows of opportunity.

The President of the Republic came to this summit with ministers mostly from the economic sector and each took part in the workshops organised on a very wide spectrum of themes ranging from agriculture, energy, trade, health issues and regional security. Cameroon will definitely stand to gain from the multilateral and transnational nature of many of the projects and trade and investment initiatives identified for funding. But beyond that, the President of the Republic availed himself of the event to make useful contacts with economic actors and potential investors who can impact the nation's development or even contribute in any manner in the major projects identified for realisation within the framework of the Greater Ambitions projects currently underway in an effort to make Cameroon an emerging economy by 2035. The exchanges have taken the form of informal meetings during close door sessions or formal audiences. For example, last Thursday August 7, 2014, in Washington, DC, he conferred with a very high-level investor, George Jones, President of Sundance Resources Ltd, the company which is about to invest an unprecedented Five Billion Dollars in the Mbalam iron ore, a multifaceted project involved not only in mineral extraction, but also in the construction of ports, railways and roads.

Security And Business Concerns

But without security all these investments are a huge risk which few investors would want to undertake. That is certainly why the Head of State took useful time off his schedule to confer with influential American lawmakers and high-level security experts. He notably held talks with Mr John Negroponte, a renowned American diplomat and security chief who served variously as national Security Adviser and Ambassador to the United Nations in the George W. Bush Administration. He probably informed the President of the Republic on ways of getting around the Boko Haram threat. With two important members of the U S House of Representatives, Congressman Chris Smith who chairs the Africa Committee of the House and Congresswoman Karen Bass, the President could have negotiated useful support for any legislative initiatives that come to the House on security issues and notably on Boko Haram.

Cameroonian companies and businesses will obviously benefit from the available resources made by the U S government. Latest Cameroon government statistics show an economic deficit for Cameroon whereas there are large opportunities to sell to the American market through the AGOA initiative. Between 2009 and 2012, Cameroonian exports to the U.S (mostly hydrocarbons, cocoa and its derivatives, rubber, wood, coffee, tea, spices, tobacco, beverages etc.) fetched some FCFA 250 Billion while imports from America (hydrocarbons, motor vehicles, machines and mechanical appliances, pharmaceuticals, rubber, organic chemicals, grains etc) were worth FCFA 371.9 Billion.

This trend can be radically changed if the Americans can be attracted to the numerous infrastructure projects underway or scheduled in Cameroon in the coming months or years. Some of the most significant are: the construction of the Limbe deep sea port, dredging of the Douala port, the second phase of the Kribi port complex, the renovation of the Douala international airport and other air ports. The energy sector is begging for attention with countless projects such as the construction of the Nachtigal Dam on the River Sanaga, the Cameroon/Nigeria interconnection project among a dozen plus others. Roads, railways and housing, not forgetting the rich unexploited mining potential are there for business.

It is only left for Cameroonians to sit up, think and be innovative. After all, financing is within reach. America also decided to reinforce the capacity of African nations to fight terrorism by launching a new Security Governance Initiative to help African countries to build strong, professional security forces to provide their own security. Another major gain of the summit is that as it closed on Wednesday, Inter-Action, the leading alliance of American NGOs announced that over the next three years, its members will invest 4 Billion U.S Dollars to promote maternal health, children's health and the delivery of vaccines and drugs. So, the combined efforts announced by President Obama and commitments made by the First Ladies during their symposium means the summit helped mobilise some 37 Billion U.S Dollars for Africa's progress. So indeed, it was worth it.

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