U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, joined U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and John Boozman (R-Ark.) in introducing legislation last week that will help create American jobs by dramatically increasing the number of U.S. exports to Africa. The bill also aims to improve America's competiveness throughout the continent by forcing better coordination between U.S. government agencies and departments, establishing comprehensive strategic goals, and marshaling private investments to improve U.S.-Africa business activities.
"We need to shift the U.S. mentality toward Africa from aid to trade," Senator Coons said. "In the last decade, Africa was home to six of the world's ten fastest-growing economies in the world. Building strong economic ties between the U.S. and Africa is in our shared interest, and this bill does just that by our government to implement a strategy that connects the burgeoning middle class in Africa with U.S. businesses and retailers. By helping build sustainable models of economic growth in Africa, we will also lessen dependency on foreign aid and provide American goods to the growing number of African consumers."
"Increasingly I am hearing: "the U.S. has given up on Africa as a market,'" Senator Durbin said. "While the U.S. does important work investing in people through education and health care programs, China and other nations are helping their industries develop infrastructure and expanding markets for their goods. While we're building institutions, China and others are building markets and we're being left behind. This bill will put the restoration of American competiveness in Africa at the forefront of our business and development goals. It will give American businesses the tools they need to do business in Africa, create jobs at home, and help ensure America is seen as a leader in a rapidly changing part of the world."
"Free and fair trade is an important component to our state's economy," Senator Boozman said. "Arkansas companies exported $5.2 billion in merchandise to foreign markets in 2010 and that total is bound to increase if we adopt a competitive strategy to tap into Africa's emerging markets. Arkansas's exporters are uniquely positioned to capitalize on increased trade with the African continent. This bill lets us establish a plan that will allow us to compete with nations like China that are already extremely active in the African markets. The bottom line is that increased trade in Africa will mean more jobs here at home."
Africa's expanding middle class provides a large and growing market for American products and the continent's increasing urbanization calls for investments in rapidly expanding infrastructure projects. Sub-Saharan Africa alone is projected to be home to seven of the ten fastest growing economies over the next five years. But other nations have beaten us to the punch, aggressively investing in the continent to ensure their businesses have first access to markets.
Between 2008 and 2010, China provided more loans to the developing world than the World Bank -- totaling more than $110 billion. In 2009, China surpassed the United States as the African continent's largest trading partner and in the next decade it is poised to invest internationally as much as $2 trillion. Members of the European Union and countries like India, Turkey, Russia and Brazil are all expanding their economic presence in Africa, with many also offering concessional (below market) loans, further undercutting American competiveness. All this while the Department of Commerce is cutting staff based in Africa and the Export-Import Bank continues to operate without a permanent presence on the continent.
The U.S.'s continued failure to develop a coherent strategy to compete in Africa is hurting American business interests, American workers and America's political influence in the region.
The tools available to the United States to competitively compete in Africa are scattered, difficult to access, and not effectively coordinated. The Durbin-Boozman-Coons bill will force a coordinated focus on increasing exports to Africa by making the following improvements:
* Develop a comprehensive strategy to create American jobs by increasing exports of US goods and services to Africa by at least 200 percent in real dollar value over the next ten years.
* Create a Special White House Africa Strategy coordinator to ensure government agencies are maximizing resources to help U.S. companies expand into African markets.
* Coordinate the Export-Import Bank, State Department, Department of Commerce, Small Business Administration, Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee efforts to more effectively promote U.S. business exports to Africa.
* Establish and or maintain Export Import Bank and Department of Commerce trade staff full time on the African continent to help U.S. businesses.
* Formalize training received by U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service officers and Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development economic officer on key programs and procedures of the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the Small Business Administration, and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency.
* Raise limits on Export Import Bank loans available to U.S. businesses to directly combat Chinese concessional loans. This proposal is revenue-neutral as the Export-Import Bank is a profitable, self-financing agency.
* Further Overseas Private Investment Corporation's efforts to foster U.S. business access to African markets. This provision is also revenue-neutral as OPIC is a profitable self-financing agency.
A similar bill has also been introduced in the House of Representatives.
Senator Durbin is the Assistant Majority Leader of the Senate and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator Boozman is a member of the Senate Commerce Committee and a member of its Subcommittee on Competitiveness, Innovation and Export Promotion.
All three Senators engaged in a Senate colloquy on Tuesday discussing the bill. You can read their remarks here: http://bit.ly/GXbzfa.