U.S. resets trade and investment ties with Africa, warns against ‘authoritarian’ China Updated for 2021

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Updated: March 6, 2021

At a luxury hotel in New York City on Wednesday, top American officials, including Deputy Secretary of State, John J. Sullivan, Deputy Secretary of Commerce Karen Dunn Kelley, USAID Administrator Mark Green, EXIM President and Chairman Kimberly Reed, OPIC Acting President and CEO David BohigianUnder Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment Keith Krach, and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Tibor Nagy, sat down with some African foreign ministers and told them the United States was ready for a different, more effective kind of trade and investment partnership with Africa.

03 AAID Africa Roundtable
USAID Administrator Mark Green (left) delivers remarks at the US- Africa round table discussion in New York on September 25, 2019.

The roundtable discussion on the sidelines of the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly was meant to enhance trade and investment partnership with Africa.

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It had in attendance African foreign ministers and senior officials from Angola, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Senegal, and South Africa, together with senior executives from several U.S. corporations and business councils.

At the center of the discussions was how to increase U.S. investments in Africa in the areas of the energy, transportation, banking, information technology, and infrastructure sectors.

The new partnership, Deputy Secretary Sullivan highlighted would, unlike the one being pursued by others, including China, benefit both the United States and Africa without trapping African nations to an ending cycle of debts, dependence, exploitation and poverty.

01 AAID Africa Roundtable

Mr. Sullivan noted that the new initiative, known as “Prosper Africa”, would bring together the full range of U.S. government resources to advance two-way trade and investment.

U.S. officials also previewed the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, slated to launch later this year to expand U.S. direct investment in Africa.

04 AAID Africa Roundtable

“As many of you know, this administration launched its Africa Strategy in December of last year.  The strategy calls for expanding commercial ties between the United States and Africa; advancing peace and security; supporting stability, good government, and self-reliance across the entire continent,” Sullivan said.

He said closer ties between the United States and African private sectors will expand markets for goods and services and contribute to greater American and African prosperity. 

“That would be good news for the United States and for a continent whose population, we’re told, will double by 2050,” he added.

According to USAID administrator Mark Green, “Prosper Africa”, would be very different from what “some authoritarian actors have offered” in the form of “so-called “help.”

He said most of the time, that ‘help’ mainly from China “looks like predatory financing and a mortgaged future. It looks like shackles instead of self-reliance”.

“We offer a better way. Our mission at USAID is to foster the journey to self-reliance. We believe that the purpose of foreign assistance must be ending its need to exist,: Green said.

“So when we find partners willing to make the reforms and tough choices necessary to achieve self-reliance, we believe that we have an obligation to walk with them along the way.  And we know that private enterprise is the force that gets countries there.  In terms of creating sustainable opportunities, nothing else comes close”.

To drive investments to Africa, new tools have been put in place, including the new Private-Sector Engagement Policy, which outlines all the ways the United States will partner with businesses to tackle development challenges.

“And it’s why we’re so excited to play a lead role in Prosper Africa.  Prosper Africa isn’t a new program-it’s a new way of doing business that will  liberate and mobilize private enterprise.  It’s built on three primary lines of effort: first, facilitating transactions that are profitable and sustainable.  Second, helping countries create investment climates that open the door to trade and investment from America and around the world.  And third, modernizing the U.S. Government’s trade and investment support services across the African continent and the United States,” Green said.

Other senior officials at the meeting argued that the United States was ready for new ties with Africa.

04 AAID Africa Roundtable

Journalists were ushered out before African foreign ministers could make their own remarks.

Below are full remarks by Sullivan and Green.

DEPUTY SECRETARY SULLIVAN:  Well, thank you, Keith.  It’s a great honor for me to be here.

Your Excellencies, members of the business community, distinguished guests, friends and colleagues, thank you so much for being here for this important discussion we have this morning to discuss trade and investment between the United States and Africa.

And let me just clarify up front in my remarks I’ll refer to Africa, but I – and there are a number of my colleagues here who have significant experience serving in various roles in Africa – I, among others, recognize what a large, diverse continent Africa is.  I’ve traveled north to south, west to east, from Algiers to Johannesburg.  I’ve probably traveled more in Africa, on the African continent, than any other continent in my two and a half years of service in this role as deputy secretary of state.  So in my remarks, I’ll refer to Africa and I’ll talk about some of our – some of the tools we and the United States Government have that are available to develop and improve our relationship with all the different countries and economies and regions that constitute that enormous, magnificent continent.

As many of you know, this administration launched its Africa Strategy in December of last year.  The strategy calls for expanding commercial ties between the United States and Africa; advancing peace and security; supporting stability, good government, and self-reliance across the entire continent.

Our strategy recognizes that high-quality foreign direct investment is essential for Africa’s development.  It underscores our longstanding commitment to Africa and to supporting our African partners as the continent transitions from foreign assistance to sustainable financial independence.  And it recognizes that satisfying the first objective of the strategy, expanding two-way trade and investment, is the surest way to satisfy the objectives that follow: advancing peace and security, promoting stability, good governance, and self-reliance.

In that spirit, the United States has made expanded economic engagement our number-one priority in Africa.  Closer ties between the United States and African private sectors will expand markets for goods and services and contribute to greater American and African prosperity.  That would be good news for the United States and for a continent whose population, we’re told, will double by 2050.

And our efforts to ramp up trade and investment could not have come at a better time as the African Continental Free Trade Area enters into force.  We strongly support this agreement’s objectives of lowering trade barriers, attracting investment, and diversifying trade.

And I’m delighted here to have many of my colleagues from the U.S. Government who have devoted, some of them, many years in their careers, and all of us in our service in this administration, to expanding and fortifying our commercial ties with Africa.  Today you’ll hear from my colleague, the Deputy Secretary of Commerce Karen Dunn Kelley.  I previously served in the Bush 43 administration as the deputy secretary of commerce, so Karen, I’m keeping your seat warm for you here at State – (laughter) – when you move on over and —

DEPUTY SECRETARY KELLEY:  And you have an invitation to come back whenever you’d like.  (Laughter.)

DEPUTY SECRETARY SULLIVAN:  We have our USAID Administrator Mark Green, but that doesn’t do justice to Mark’s experience, particularly on the continent.  Ambassador Green served as our ambassador to Tanzania in the Bush 43 administration.  My friend and colleague and former Commerce Department colleague David Bohigian, who’s the acting president and CEO of OPIC.  Our EXIM chair, Kimberly Reed, welcome.  I know EXIM is of particular importance to many of our U.S. companies looking to do business in Africa.  And they’ll all share their – my colleagues will all share their perspectives on broadening and deepening our trade with the continent.

And then for my colleagues from the State Department:  Our under secretary who’s known as E, E for excellent, Keith Krach.  Our Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Tibor Nagy, who’s been a real source of strength and knowledge for me in particular as I’ve worked on a variety of issues in Africa.  Our National Security Council is represented by Deputy Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Africa Erin Walsh.  And Principal Deputy Vice President of the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s Compact Operations Kyeh Kim.

So we’re here to have a discussion.  We believe that now is the right time to discuss particularly mechanisms to foster deeper economic partnership between the United States and our African partners.  This was the goal I had in mind when I visited Angola and South Africa some months ago, met with several of the officials who are here in the room today, and with other representatives of leading African economies.  I’d like to take a moment to mention important developments and new tools that the United States is bringing to the table.

With the strong backing of this administration, our Congress passed legislation called the BUILD Act last year.  The BUILD Act retools and expands the U.S. Government’s approach to development finance, and it more than doubles the U.S. Government’s resources for underwriting outbound private investment from approximately 30 billion to 60 billion.  And EXIM Bank, our export credit agency, whose first credit to the continent, by the way, was issued in 1942 – by the way, the original text of this said 1492; the digits got transposed and I started to think, “Wait a second.”  (Laughter.)

PARTICIPANT:  That’s something else.

DEPUTY SECRETARY SULLIVAN:  Maybe, I don’t know.  But in any event, EXIM is now back, fully functioning, and ready to use its balance sheet for – to do greater work, particularly in Africa.

A few comments on the new International Development Finance Corporation, or DFC:  DFC increases the tools and resources of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, or as we know it, OPIC, and adds to the resources of Ambassador Green’s Development Credit Authority at USAID.

This new, modernized development finance agency offers opportunities for more U.S. direct investment in Africa, as well as equity investments in African companies.  The DFC will also provide technical assistance and conduct feasibility studies for potential projects.

The DFC will support bankable projects that adhere to high standards and are led by the private sector.  And if I could just drop a footnote here, the strength of the United States, from my perspective, and I’ve served – this is my third administration, fourth cabinet department; I served at Justice, Defense, Commerce, and now State.  I’ve seen the incredible men and women of our armed forces, the might of the United States military, and there’s no doubt about it – it’s second to none.  But the strength of the United States is our private sector, it’s our culture, it’s our values.  It’s companies – companies that are represented here today.  The strength of the United States is not the DFC, it’s not the $60 billion that Congress has appropriated.  The strength of the United States is our private sector, private sector investment, from which Keith came from, the private sector.  That’s the strength of the United States.  That’s what we’re looking to have the DFC foster, promote, and provide support to.

So we’ll support bankable projects that the private sector will participate in, will energize the administration’s important efforts to advance global women’s economic empowerment by directly investing capital in women-owned and women-supporting projects in Africa.

Limited backing from the U.S. Government can catalyze significant amounts of private capital for emerging markets.  This model of mobilizing private investment is only becoming more prominent, as the needs in the developing world are too great to be addressed only with official government resources.

And this is why it’s so important that we have a number of U.S. business representatives and leaders of critically important business associations at the table with us today.  The DFC, the new arm of U.S. development finance, will serve as a bridge between investment opportunities overseas and the U.S. private sector, whose economic might can and will help power developing economies around the world, particularly in Africa.

We believe that the DFC embodies the future of development finance, and we hope to use these resources to unlock billions in private capital from the United States.

In addition, this past June, our administration also announced the Prosper Africa Initiative.  At its core, Prosper Africa has three main objectives.  First, it aims to establish a one-stop shop where U.S. and African businesses can access the full range of U.S. Government services.  Second, it strives to help facilitate more business deals between U.S. and African counterparts.  And third, it focuses on promoting better business climates and financial markets on the continent to attract more investment.

At the same time, we have established embassy deal teams to deliver trade and investment opportunities for American and African businesses in a more structured fashion.  Already our deal teams have ramped up our engagements, resulting in successful bids by U.S. firms that will create employment and increase production in the United States and in Africa.

For example, Nevada-based Africa Growth Corporation has built close to 160 homes since 2017 and plans to build 300 more in the next two years in the Namibian residential construction market, and they can pave the way for other U.S. companies to help address critical housing shortages and the need for more affordable housing solutions.

We also hope that, in time, fair and reciprocal free trade agreements with the United States will serve as a conduit for the investment many African countries desire.  Our free trade agreements provide the legal certainty necessary for private sector investments, and we have appreciated the interest of many – many of you have shown in pursuing free trade agreements with us.

We’re delighted to be joined here today by some of our flagship American companies, global iconic names – Citibank, Bechtel, GE, Google, and ExxonMobil.  These companies show how Americans are not only bringing significant capital, innovation, and proven solutions to new and emerging markets, but they adhere to the highest standards of transparency, quality, and social responsibility on the continent.  They also make it a priority to hire, train, and advance Africans into positions of responsibility.

We all know that some other countries investing in Africa have not followed this model of engagement.  Instead, they leverage asymmetric and unfair business deals to infringe on national sovereignty, and often trap countries in spiraling debt.  Their bottom line is weaker as a result, more dependent, and not a self-reliant economy that results.

Unlike some state-directed models of development, the U.S. development finance approach focuses on incorporating the strongest U.S. business practices.  By mobilizing our private sector capital to build projects that are financially sustainable, we can avoid the debt traps that have often left countries worse off, and do more to improve underlying business climates and initiate virtuous cycles that generate more trade, investment, and growth.

Our promise to you is this:  U.S. economic engagement in Africa will continue to be predicated on respect for our partners’ sovereignty; ensuring that local workers benefit from our cooperation; upholding environmental standards; combating corruption; and producing outcomes that are built to last.  We’re not only investing in Africa; we’re investing in Africans, providing opportunities that strengthen the workforce and lead to economic self-sufficiency.

I’m delighted to be joined here today by this esteemed audience to discuss concrete ways to unlock trade, business, and investment opportunities that will lead to more jobs and economic growth across the United States and Africa.  You’ll soon hear from my colleagues from the Department of Commerce, USAID, OPIC, EXIM, on how their teams are working hard every day to multiply opportunities for increased commercial partnerships between our countries.  I hope you’ll find these presentations informative.

So again, thank you all.  I look forward to the discussion.  And Mr. Under Secretary, back to you.

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Thank you, Tibor.  It’s a pleasure to be here today. 

As Deputy Secretary Sullivan said, the United States is committed to helping expand economic growth and opportunity across Africa.  Today, about 60% of Africa’s 1.2 billion people are under 25.  A decade from now, there will be around 320 million Africans between the ages of 15 and 24.  A whole generation of young men and women with big dreams, eager for the opportunity to make their own way.  The challenge of our generation is to ensure that the opportunities are there.

Together, we can help create those opportunities. Like the Deputy Secretary mentioned, we know that we’re not the only players in the game. Some authoritarian actors have offered their so-called “help.” But most of the time, this looks like predatory financing and a mortgaged future. It looks like shackles instead of self-reliance.

We offer a better way. Our mission at USAID is to foster the journey to self-reliance. We believe that the purpose of foreign assistance must be ending its need to exist. So when we find partners willing to make the reforms and tough choices necessary to achieve self-reliance, we believe that we have an obligation to walk with them along the way.  And we know that private enterprise is the force that gets countries there.  In terms of creating sustainable opportunities, nothing else comes close.  

That’s why at USAID we’ve redoubled our efforts to deepen our engagement with the private sector.  We’ve created new tools to further incorporate true collaboration with private enterprise in everything that we do. Like our new Private-Sector Engagement Policy, which outlines all the ways that we’ll partner with businesses to tackle development challenges.

And it’s why we’re so excited to play a lead role in Prosper Africa.  Prosper Africa isn’t a new program-it’s a new way of doing business that will  liberate and mobilize private enterprise.  It’s built on three primary lines of effort: first, facilitating transactions that are profitable and sustainable.  Second, helping countries create investment climates that open the door to trade and investment from America and around the world.  And third, modernizing the U.S. Government’s trade and investment support services across the African continent and the United States.

We know this integrated, pro-business approach works, because we’re using it to great success in other initiatives on the continent.  Like Power Africa, where we’re helping to connect government, financiers and private-enterprise projects that will one day power the entire continent.  Or our Feed the Future work, where we help farmers become more prosperous and connected to global markets, bridging the divide between their needs and private-enterprise. 

Those initiatives marry the ingenuity and enterprise of American and African businesses with the desire of people and governments to achieve lasting growth and results.   And that’s precisely what Prosper Africa will help to achieve, on a larger scale than ever before.  

Prosper Africa will deepen trade and investment between the U.S. and Africa. It will help Africans seize the power of investment and enterprise, expanding economic growth across the continent.  And it will create opportunities for the next generation of African youth, helping them to reach their full potential and lead their own bright future.  We couldn’t be more excited to work with all of you towards that goal. 

Thank you.   

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Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba covers the White House, the U.S. government, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions for Today News Africa in Washington D.C. Simon can be reached on simonateba@todaynewsafrica.com

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