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Remarks by Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross at the U.S.-Africa Leadership Forum: Strengthening the Future of U.S.-Africa Trade and Investment


Thank you, Farid, for that kind introduction, and congratulations to General Electric for celebrating its 120th year of working in Africa. Thank you, also, to the Corporate Council on Africa and the Chamber of Commerce’s U.S.-Africa Business Center for inviting me here this morning. It is my pleasure to be with such a distinguished group: President al-Sisi, President Issoufou, President Akufo-Addo, and Vice President Duncan. 

It is great to see such a strong turnout for this event. And we know why: Africa is truly a dynamic, transformative place, experiencing strong economic growth that is projected to be about 4 percent this year. With last year’s GDP increase of 3.5 percent, Africa is the fastest growing region of the world after Asia, according to the African Development Bank. In addition, the IMF forecasts that this year, six of the top 10 fastest growing economies in the world will be in Africa.

The United States, and many great American companies like GE, have long been engaged in Africa. The U.S. accounts for almost 30 percent of FDI stock on the continent, as opposed to China which is at 5 percent. And the U.S. government has sustained its commitment, by being the world’s largest donor of foreign aid, providing more than $9 billion a year in support of Sub-Saharan Africa. We want to encourage investment in the future of Africa, in its people, in building communities, and in providing the means to generate prosperity for millions of people. We look to Africa as being an equal partner in building a stronger trading relationship with the United States, particularly since U.S. exports into Africa have decreased by 32 percent from their high in 2014. 

There are many reasons for this decline. Within the United States, the U.S. Government’s export credit and other financing agencies were sidelined or not optimized for current challenges. Many small and medium-sized companies are unaware of the U.S. government’s export, investment, and risk-mitigation tools. Obstacles for U.S. companies within Africa are also substantial, such as complicated laws and regulations, delays in customs practices; and local content requirements. Many companies have given up trying to overcome them.

This Administration has launched a series of trade and investment initiatives between the United States and Africa to mitigate these challenges. In October 2018, President Trump signed the “Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development,” or the BUILD Act, into law. This established the new U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, which is doubling the cap on financing opportunities, and strengthened the focus on new markets, including those in Africa. Congress reinstated the U.S. Export-Import Bank Board quorum in May 2019, and we are hopeful that EXIM will be reauthorized in the next couple of weeks. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative also announced in August 2018 its intent to negotiate a bilateral free trade agreement with an African partner that can serve as the basis for agreements with other African countries. And, most importantly, we have introduced the “Prosper Africa Initiative,” which fundamentally alters the U.S. Government’s approach to Africa. The intent of this initiative is to substantially increase two-way trade and investment between the U.S. and Africa. Prosper Africa is synchronizing the capabilities of 15-plus government agencies involved in African trade, finance, and policy. It is facilitating transactions by helping U.S. companies identify commercial opportunities in Africa. And, where appropriate, we are expediting deals through our Advocacy Office.

We have spent a lot of time in Africa, meeting with governments, companies, and community leaders. We have heard their concerns and hopes for change. I was in Africa last year with the President’s Advisory Committee on Doing Business in Africa, and I hope to be returning again in the near future. During that trip, the U.S. Government signed MOUs with three countries – Kenya, Ethiopia, and Ghana — aimed at strengthening commercial ties, and eliminating barriers to trade, and investment. Since then, we have signed two more MOUs, with Côte d’Ivoire, and Mozambique. The Prosper Africa Initiative is the result of these trips, and the recommendations made by our extremely engaged Presidential Advisory Committee on Doling Business in Africa. It is also the result of an underlying change in the Africa narrative.

China is aggressively extending loans to African nations for large projects that benefit nobody other than China. We have heard woeful stories about poor quality, dubious contracts, punitive financing, and egregious exploitation of resources. We know that U.S. companies offer an unrivaled value proposition. They provide benefits far beyond those that can be measured monetarily, hiring local workers, exposing them to innovation and training them in best business practices and finance, and doing what is right for communities and countries.

With 42 million African Americans in the United States, there is a powerful, historical connection between the U.S. and Africa. We are truly committed to strengthening our engagement with Africa over many, many decades. I look forward to hearing your ideas and recommendations that result from today’s forum, and pledge to work with you in making them come to fruition. For those of you who are attending the U.N. General Assembly, my best wishes for a truly productive and propitious week. Thank you, again, for having me and my best wishes to all of you.