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US market still open to Africa - Rosa Whitaker

Published date:
Friday, 30 October 2009

Ms Rosa Whitaker, the President and CEO of the Whitaker Group (TWG) of USA has assured African exporters that despite the economic downturn, the $11-trillion US market still offered many opportunities to African entrepreneurs willing to stay abreast of the dynamic marketing environment of the United States and market their products to meet consumer demand.

“Despite the global recession, there are still many opportunities for African exporters to sell their products in the American market under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

But it is critical that exporters take the time to research and understand what US consumers want, be alert to new opportunities and market their products accordingly,” said Ms Whitaker, whose company is a consultancy specialising in trade and investment in Africa.

She was speaking to trade and business experts in Accra at the Short Trade Policy Course for African Countries organised by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).

Ms Whitaker was a key architect of AGOA, which allows about 9,000 agricultural and manufactured products to enter the US duty and quota-free, and as the first ever Assistant Trade Representative to Africa, was responsible for its early implementation.

Since its inception in 2003, TWG has facilitated over $1 billion in capital flows to Africa.

Ms Whitaker urged exporters to pay particular attention to branding. “African entrepreneurs need to understand what sector of the American market they are trying to reach, how to distinctively brand their products to appeal to that market and be willing to spend the money to brand and advertise products effectively”, she said, giving as an example the success of Uganda’s Good African Coffee Company which sells its products under that label in the US and Europe.

“Every entrepreneur has some advantage he or she can sell to investors”, Ms Whitaker said, adding that her company assists countries and exporters to find their comparative and competitive advantages, and helps them harness their agricultural potential.

She also pointed to the benefits of integrating products into the global supply chain as evidenced by processed cocoa powder manufactured at the $100 million-plant in Tema by US food commodity company, Cargill, and was now being offered to global food manufacturers under a distinctive made-in-Ghana label.

Ms Whitaker advised exporters to take advantage of opportunities made possible by new technologies such as the rapidly growing mobile phone industry in Africa and arrival of the undersea fiber optic cables in East Africa.

“All this creates huge opportunities for new sectors in the field of telecommunications, with significant returns for the first investors to seek those opportunities out,” Ms Whitaker said. “Business Process Outsourcing is one of the most promising new sectors made possible through IT linkages and the liberalisation of the services trade in the WTO.”

She called on African governments to redouble their commitment to attract foreign investment and create a favourable business environment, increase access to reliable power, good infrastructure and transportation networks, and move forward on regional integration to facilitate the movement of goods across borders.

“Building an export sector is both an art and a science”, Ms Whitaker said. “The art involves marketing products, establishing a positive brand and finding creative ways to fill niches. But until exporters are able to get their products to markets reliably, efficiently and on time, even the best marketing in the world will not be enough,” Ms Whitaker stated.

Ms Whitaker, in her capacity as the co-chair of the AGOA Action Committee, is advocating new enhancements to AGOA. These include making AGOA permanent, advocating against proposed legislation to extend AGOA benefits to non-African Least Developed Countries (LDCs), expanding the list of products that can enter the US tariff and quota-free, encouraging greater foreign investment in Africa by giving US businesses tax incentives if they invest in African operations and calling for expanded US investments into infrastructure development in Africa.

“AGOA remains a great opportunity not just for African farmers and entrepreneurs, but also for a closer partnership between the United States and the nations of Africa, for governments to develop the structures that underpin sustainable economic growth, for US investors to enter the only remaining largely untapped market in the world, and for US consumers to discover the richness of what Africa has to offer”, she said.

“ Latest AGOA Trade Data currently available on

Click here to view a sector profile of Ghana's bilateral trade with the United States, disaggregated by total exports and imports, AGOA exports and GSP exports.

Other regularly updated trade statistics on include: (click each link to view)

  • AGOA-Beneficiary Countries’ AGOA and GSP Trade Aggregates

  • AGOA Trade by Industry Sector

  • Apparel Trade under AGOA’s Wearing Apparel Provisions

  • Latest Apparel Quotas under AGOA

  • Bilateral Trade Data for all AGOA-eligible countries individually.

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