Trade-facilitating infrastructure development is set to emerge as a central theme of the upcoming African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) Forum that will take place in Lusaka, Zambia, next month.
The forum, which is assembling for the tenth time, could attract up to 800 African and US government, business and civil society leaders, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Trade Representative Ron Kirk.
Convening under the theme ‘Enhanced trade through increased competitiveness, value addition and deeper regional integration’, the gathering will take place from June 7 to 10, 2011, with a Ministerial session scheduled for June 9 and 10.
In 2010, the US exported goods and services worth $17,1-billion to Africa, while its imports from the region were $64,3-billion – steady growth from exports of $5,9-billion and imports of $23,4-billion prior to the implementation of the Act in 2000. Therefore, the US continues to regard Agoa as the “centrepiece” of its African trade and investment policy and President Barack Obama’s administration is seeking to again extend the Act beyond its 2015 expiration date to 2025.
As with previous forums, the focus will be on promoting trade, business and investment opportunities. But the Lusaka event will also interrogate ways for the 37 sub-Saharan African beneficiaries of Agoa to more fully exploit the favourable terms on offer from the world’s largest economy.
There is a broad acceptance that Africa’s underdeveloped trade-supporting infrastructure – from roads and rail, through to ports and communication networks – is continuing to limit uptake.
Speaking ahead of the gathering, US Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) director Leocadia Zak indicated that the agency is prioritising programmes designed to address these infrastructure deficits.
She reports that the USTDA will use the upcoming forum to create an awareness of its three key priorities for the region. These include building the infrastructure for trade, especially clean energy, logistics networks and broadband networks; matching US technologies to Africa’s infrastructure programmes, and developing sustainable business partnerships.
The US’s official export credit agency, the Export-Import Bank, is also keen to used the Lusaka meeting to highlight its plans for Africa, with executive VP and COO Alice Albright noting recent growth trends in its activities on the continent.
The bank’s exposure has expanded to $3,6-billion, with yearly activity having climbed from historical levels of around $400-million, to $812-million in 2010.
Albright expects Africa-linked distributions to US exporters to increase to between $1-billion and $1,5-billion in 2011, given the current “strong pipeline” in infrastructure.
Corporate Council on Africa (CCA) VP of business development Timothy McCoy says there has also been a marked increase in US business interest in Africa, which is increasingly seen as a potential growth market.
He says US firms will participate in the trade fair and the private sector days planned to coincide with the summit, which will take place at the Mulungushi International Conference Centre.
CCA, a nonprofit association of 160 US firms, aims to encourage business relations and plans to use the event to “shine light on business opportunities in Zambia and the rest of the region”.