- African Growth and Opportunity Act
TRALAC - Trade Law Centre
You are here: Home/News/Article/US steps up its game in Africa, a continent open for business

US steps up its game in Africa, a continent open for business

US steps up its game in Africa, a continent open for business
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in Ghana
Published date:
Saturday, 07 July 2018

“The U.S. needs to step up its game in Africa,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross in Accra, Ghana, Thursday in an expected and welcome assessment. 

The secretary was in Ghana to close out the four-country mission of the President’s Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa (PAC-DBIA), originally established by executive order under President Obama in August of 2014, “to strengthen commercial relations between the United States and sub Saharan Africa.” 

The 60-member delegation, having already made stops in Ethiopia, Kenya and Cote d’ Ivoire, sought to gather insights on market opportunities in Africa for U.S. businesses.

In Ghana, Secretary Ross signed a memorandum of understanding with the Minister of Finance which seeks to connect U.S. businesses with priority Ghana investment opportunities, with a mechanism to review progress every six months. On previous stops, Under Secretary of Commerce Gilbert Kaplan signed cooperative agreements with the Ethiopian and Kenyan governments. Some $3 billion in private sector deals are expected to result from the mission.

The fact that the Trump administration chose to embrace PAC-DBIA, when so few Obama initiatives are still standing, with Secretary Ross leading the inaugural visit, should be noteworthy for those wondering where Trump’s Africa policy is headed. 

Heretofore, the narrative has been that that Trump’s Africa policy is largely driven by security concerns — the fight in Nigeria against Boko Haram, Al Shabab in Somalia, and other trans-continental, transnational terrorism threats.  And there was no reason to think otherwise.

When former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson took his first trip to Africa, which would be his last mission as secretary, his agenda focused almost entirely on shoring up countries that partnered with the U.S. in fighting terrorism. And one of President Trump’s early moves in office was to impose a travel ban, originally impacting four African nations. 

Many expressed concern, fearing that by prioritizing security and cutting back on aid and trade, the United States may weaken its long-term strategic position on the continent.

It seems now that either the early speculation was ill founded, or more likely, that the Trump administration is pivoting towards prioritizing trade and investment, with potentially significant implications Africa and for U.S. businesses looking for more aggressive advocacy from their government. 

Secretary Ross said during his key-note address at the U.S.-Ghana Business Forum, “We are fully committed to the long-term growth of Africa.” He added that “there can be no national security without out economic security." He also cited statistics that showed a decline in U.S. exports to Africa, and a reduction in overall U.S.-Africa trade, calling it “an embarrassment” for both the U.S. government and its private sector.  

Indeed. The lost opportunity cost is staggering when one looks to the future — the continent is likely to present $5.6 trillion in market opportunities and a population of over 1.52 billion consumers by 2025. 

However, the elephant in the room remains China’s aggressive and sometimes controversial practices in Africa, where it has long surpassed the United States’ as Africa’s largest trading partner.  

Since 2013, when China announced its infrastructure investment program, the Belt Road Initiative, it has pumped  huge flows of capital throughout Asia and across world markets. AidData estimates that China spends $40 billion per year through its DFIs, including the Export-Import Bank of China, the China Development Bank, the Beijing-based Asia Infrastructure Investment Fund, the Shanghai-based New Development Bank BRICS and the Silk Road Fund. 

The secretary’s speech in Accra, and the PAC-DIBA mission, seem to signal that the Trump administration is awakening to the Africa’s market potential — looking to reclaim some space from China. 

And as one might expect from the chamber audience, the secretary received the loudest applause when he contrasted the durability of made-in-America, with the build-and-repeat character of Chinese projects.

As I sat in the audience listening to Secretary Ross, his interest and commitment felt personal, and his engagement with the audience during the Q&A reinforced my view. He owned the room.

What’s next? What resources will Commerce deploy, personnel and financial, to further the secretary’s ambition? Can we anticipate the allocation of additional Foreign Commercial Service officers in the next budget? If not, how will the mission be achieved given existing resources?

What about the development finance institutions? Secretary Ross sits on the board of both the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and the U.S. Export-Import Bank (EXIM). OPIC, thanks in part to Ross’ support, is slated for major expansion. EXIM, on the other hand, currently lacks a quorum to approve loans beyond $10 million USD. 

“The Export-Import Bank plays a vital role in supporting American companies as they work to sell their products to customers across the world,” said Neil Bradley of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “But as long as the seats remain vacant, U.S. businesses are at a disadvantage relative to global competitors.”

While in Ghana, Ross was reminded that it was EXIM which helped to finance the Akosombo Dam on the Volta River in 1961 to supply hydroelectric power to Kaiser Aluminum. The project was transformative for Ghana at the time, and remains so today.

Maybe with Ross’ guidance, the board of EXIM can be reconstituted, and gain Congressional approval.

Beyond EXIM, Secretary Ross is expected to report back to President Trump on the findings of PAC-DBIA with actionable recommendations to deepen commercial ties with Africa. Herein lies the real opportunity — to draw President Trump’s attention to the opportunity of Africa, to one of the largest potential markets for U.S. export growth, and to a continent open for American business.


Read related news articles

'Nigeria missing as Kenya, Ghana tap AGOA opportunities to boost foreign exchange earnings'

Africa’s biggest economy is still failing to tap the opportunities that the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) present to boost its foreign exchange, amid acute dollar shortages. The AGOA has been on for over twenty-three years as it was enacted in 2020. In 2015, the program was modernised and extended to 2025, implying that there are only about 15 months before the window closes. Some countries have taken advantage of the AGOA more...

05 February 2024

AGOA extension crucial for Ghana’s industrialisation

The Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry Nana Ama Dokua Asiamah-Adjei is supporting the push for the extension of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) to enhance trade between Ghana and the US. A United States Trade Act enacted on 18 May 2000 as Public Law 106 of the 200th Congress, the AGOA legislation has been renewed on different occasions, most recently in 2015, when its period of validity was extended to September 2025. The...

06 November 2023

We want more Ghanaian exports in US market – trade minister

Mr. Kobina Tahir Hammond, Minister of Trade and Industry, says Ghana desires to increase its exports to the United States (US) market, arguably the most lucrative consumer market globally. He indicated that the Government had stepped up support for the private sector, both domestic and foreign, to enhance production and export capacity, particularly in the manufacturing sector, with notable opportunities for export into the U.S. market. The...

11 August 2023

Ghana trade minister calls for strategic US investment in African agribusinesses

The Trade and Industry Minister, Alan Kyerematen, has advocated for intensive investment in the agricultural sector as part of major plans to economically empower the African continent. The Minister made this pronouncement during the recent summit of US- African leaders in Washington DC. The US-Africa Leaders’ Summit was anchored on the shared values of fostering new economic engagement; reinforcing the US-Africa commitment to democracy...

20 December 2022

United States, Ghana looking at deepening trade

The United States is relying on its Development Finance Corporation (DFC) to deepen trading activities with Ghana to create more employment for the youth. The US created the DFC a few years ago to help mobilise foreign direct investments to help support projects in Africa and partner industries on the continent. “I think that is also an important programme and I absolutely agree that working together to build trade between our two nations...

22 October 2021

'Funding challenges undermine SMEs’ growth in Africa'

Analysts who spoke at a recent webinar organised by the American Business Council in Nigeria, in collaboration with US Chamber of Commerce, Amcham Ghana and Amcham South Africa on the US-Africa relations, have identified lack of adequate funding as a major challenge to the growth of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in Africa. The analysts were of the view that SMEs across Africa are faced with serious funding challenges, despite their...

30 July 2021

Ghana Apparel Training Centre launched to develop garment industry

In efforts to support Ghana’s garment manufacturing industry, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, together with its partners – Ethical Apparel Africa (EAA), Gerber, Groz Beckert, Freudenberg and Accra Technical Training College (ATTC), have officially launched the Ghana Apparel Training & Service Centre, in Accra. The launch forms part of a public-private partnership between the German Federal...

27 November 2020

SA president to meet with US Chamber of Commerce over investment

President Cyril Ramaphosa will participate in a virtual business and investment roundtable on Tuesday (10 November) with representatives from three major business organisations from the United States. The organisations are the Business Council for International Understanding (BCIU), the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA), and the US Chamber of Commerce. “The president will be supported by South Africa’s Ambassador to the United States, Ms...

10 November 2020

US-Ghana trade deepens as 2019 local AGOA Expo ends

The Ghana Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GNCCI) has ended its Africa Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA) trade Expo with a high-powered business to business meeting which saw over 50 African American businesses strike business deals with Ghanaian businesses partaking of the event.  President of the Chamber, Dr Nana Appiagyei Dankawoso 1 was confident “the engagement will expand business opportunities in Ghana in 2020”. “This B2B...

11 December 2019

US delegation reaffirms commitment to Ghana’s apparel manufacturing industry

The United States of America has reaffirmed its commitment to supporting Ghana’s apparel manufacturing industry. This follows a visit of a high-level U.S Congressional Delegation including its Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, to Ghana’s largest apparel manufacturer in West Africa, Dignity Do the Right Thing (DTRT) located in Adabraka, Accra. Speaking to JoyBusiness at the visit to the DTRT Factory, the Managing Director of the manufacturing firm,...

30 July 2019

Ghana Chamber to build capacity of businesses to utilise opportunities in AGOA

The Ghana National Chamber of Commerce and Industry and its partners are working together to increase Ghana's utilisation of African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). AGOA accords sub Saharan African countries the opportunity to export over 6,500 products on a duty-free and quota-free basis. Over the years, Ghana had not been able to derive much benefit from AGOA, hence the need to encourage them to form partnerships to make strides, Nana...

24 October 2018

You are here: Home/News/Article/US steps up its game in Africa, a continent open for business