Washington to host first U.S.-Africa Business Forum in six years

ADDIS ABABA – The U.S.-Africa Business Forum or USABF will be held for the first time in six years in mid-December as part of the three-day leaders’ summit 2022.

The U.S. Department of Commerce will host the forum in partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Corporate Council on Africa.

Assistant Secretary of Commerce Arun Venkataraman said the forum aims to advance a two-way trade by addressing “critical areas of mutual interest.”

Trade and investment partnerships, energy and infrastructure finance, agribusiness, and the digital economy will particularly be the focus of the USABF slated for Dec 14, 2022.

The last U.S.-Africa Business Forum was held in New York in 2016 – a few months before President Barack Obama left his office.

“A lot has happened in six years.  We’ve had COVID, we’ve had supply chain disruptions happening around the world, crisis after crisis,” said Camille Richardson, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Africa.

“And so one of the key priorities of the Biden administration is economic recovery and growth that is also economically inclusive.”

At least 42 African heads of state confirmed for the leaders’ summit will attend the Forum along with nearly 300 companies on both sides of the Atlantic. 

‘Capturing Hearts & Minds’  

At the forum, Camille said the Biden administration “will be announcing a lot of very high-level deal commitments.” 

Camille also mentioned the US’s plan to “generate interest and excitement” among participating businesses and heads of state. 

“We’re looking to capture hearts and minds,” Camille said. “We want to get people’s hearts and minds involved in and really invested in a new partnership with Africa.”  

However, Biden will not be the first to announce a major policy initiative aiming to boost trade and investment ties with Africa.

Previous Initiatives

President George Bush introduced the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) when it was first passed in 2000. 

Obama added to the suite of U.S. initiatives, unveiling the Doing Business in Africa Campaign, Power Africa, and Trade Africa, 

Donald Trump launched Prosper Africa – a U.S. government initiative to increase trade and investment between the US and the continent.

And yet US exports of goods to the continent barely topped $26.7bn in 2021, down 30% from a high of $38.1bn in 2014, according to the African report. Two-way trade was $64.3bn – barely more than 1% of US global commerce – down from a high of $141.9bn in 2008.

In the same period, other countries like China ramped up their trade ties with African countries.

The share of China in Sub-saharan Africa’s total trade – imports and exports – has increased from only 4% in 2001 to 25.6% in 2020. SSA’s share in China’s total trade also spiked during the same period – from 1.48% of China’s total trade in 2001 to 3.18% in 2020.

Changing course

Washington is now seeking to change the course of trade flow with Africa with the help of its private sector investment and building on the Trump era’s Prosper Africa initiative.

“One unique advantage that the United States brings is our private sector,” said Arun, pointing out that the existing US businesses in the continent were only driven by business interest.

“They are in Africa not because the U.S. Government tells them to do so or allows them to do so,” she Arun said. And that “will make their partnerships enduring and capable of producing tangible benefits on the ground for the long term.” 

Prosper Africa says it helped close some 800 deals across 45 African countries for an estimated total value of $50 billion over the past three years.

More business deals are expected to be closed at the ‘Prosper deal room’ during the upcoming USABF 2022. It “will feature a significant number of deals that I think will generate interest and excitement,” Assistant Secretary of Commerce Arun announced during a digital press briefing this week.

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