TRALAC - Trade Law Centre

African exporters seek a connection in US

Monday, 02 August 2010

Source: Kansas

(Johnnie Carson Guest Columnist) If you’re looking to grow your business and open new markets abroad, you might want to visit the Marriott in downtown Kansas City this Wednesday through Friday. About 35 trade, agriculture and transportation ministers from 30 African countries — in addition to more than 100 African and 50 U.S. businesses — will be meeting there for the ninth annual African Growth and Opportunity Act Forum. Since 2001, the forum has alternated between Washington and African capitals, but this year we have included Kansas City to help boost U.S.-Africa business.

The African Growth and Opportunity Act, also known as AGOA, was passed by Congress in 2000 to strengthen our trading partnership with sub-Saharan African countries that demonstrate progress in economic, legal and human rights reforms. Under the legislation, 38 countries are eligible to export nearly 6,500 products to the United States duty-free. Although African companies are the direct beneficiaries of AGOA when they export to the U.S., American companies can also benefit when they invest in Africa or supply equipment and technical support to eligible African firms. The forum is instrumental in making these business relationships possible.

It is not by chance that we selected Kansas City for this year’s forum. In its first years, AGOA fostered a substantial increase in African exports, particularly apparel, to the United States. But since the world’s quota regime for textiles and apparel came to an end in 2005, African apparel exporters have struggled to compete in U.S. markets. The recent economic downturn has also contributed to a decrease in African exports of petroleum, chemical and mineral products. The only sector in which AGOA trade has increased over the past decade is agriculture. And that is where Kansas City comes into the picture.

At this week’s forum, we are hoping to breathe new life into AGOA and create opportunities for U.S. businesses and African exporters that might not have otherwise found each other. Africa has enormous untapped potential in its agriculture and food processing sectors, with much of its arable land underused and crops unable to find their way to markets. As the world’s demand for food and other agricultural products grows, Africa’s importance in these areas will only increase.

The United States recognizes Africa’s growing strategic importance in agriculture and will be providing assistance under the president’s Feed the Future agricultural initiative to help a dozen African countries develop their production and distribution capacity. This will mean opportunities for American companies to sell seed, fertilizer, specialized farm machinery and agricultural processing equipment.

It is also an opportunity for large American agricultural-industrial companies to make strategic trade and investment relationships. Given Africa’s limited road and rail infrastructure, transportation is another sector that has enormous potential for growth. Africa will also benefit from these partnerships.

I have spent most of my career of 45 years working on and living in Africa, and I can assure you it is, above all, a continent of farmers and traders. Much like our own founding fathers, many of Africa’s leaders and “city slickers” are farmers at heart and maintain their ties to the land and investments in agriculture. Officials and businesspeople from two-thirds of sub-Saharan African countries coming to Kansas City for the AGOA Forum suggests they know what matters when it comes to farming, food and trade. Please join us to see for yourself. I’ll be there.

You can find more information and register at

Johnnie Carson is the U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs.

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