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Public Statements

The News Journal - Creating Jobs in Delaware by Embracing Africa's Economic Potential

Op-Ed

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By Senator Chris Coons

Creating jobs in Delaware means making sure our local businesses can sell their goods and services to more customers -- no matter where in the world they live. In today's global economy, we can't ignore the fact that 95 percent of the world's consumers live beyond our borders. Many of them live in Africa, which is home to seven of the ten fastest growing economies in the world and is poised for an economic takeoff led by an exploding middle class.

When American businesses sell their products in Africa, they grow and create jobs in their offices, headquarters and factories here at home. Nearly 10 million American jobs are supported by exports -- including well over 11,000 in Delaware -- and every billion dollars of U.S. exports could create as many as 5,000 new jobs. So it is in our economic interest to dramatically scale up our economic engagement with Africa. If we don't, our international competitors will -- and in some cases, they already have. At a meeting about U.S. export opportunities, an African head of state told me that while they "would prefer to work with the United States, the Chinese are already here."

We cannot allow our competitors in the global economy to lock American companies out of fast-growing African markets, which have as many as 900 million potential consumers. Large and small businesses in Delaware, from DuPont-Pioneer to Baltimore Air Coil, based in Milford, are already selling their goods and services to African customers, but we have to do more to provide the tools and resources they need to succeed.

As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, I recently released a report based on hearings and research on Africa's economic potential. This report includes concrete recommendations for increasing U.S.-Africa investment and trade. Implementing these recommendations will strengthen our trade relationships, open new markets to American businesses, support domestic economic growth and job creation and ensure we do not continue to cede political and economic leadership on the continent to our global competitors.

We have to implement a smarter, more cohesive strategy for broad U.S. engagement with Africa in the public and the private sectors. This is a race for access to the fastest-growing markets anywhere in the world -- and that's a race I want the United States to win. I have been encouraged in the last year to see a new policy from the Obama administration that includes ways to increase trade and improve economic engagement with Africa, but there is still more that we can do.

The good news is that the report recommendations will give us a better strategy without spending a dime of additional taxpayer money. In fact, we are finding ways to prioritize, reallocate and spend existing money more wisely. In order to get the most bang for our buck, we can work with our African partners to remove barriers to trade; reauthorize and strengthen the African Growth and Opportunity Act; improve coordination between U.S. government agencies; increase the presence of U.S. Foreign Commercial Service officers in the region; bolster support for agencies that finance U.S. commercial engagement overseas; and engage the community of African-born individuals who now live in the United States to bolster economic ties.

Delawareans are already leading the way in engaging with Africa. Whether they are doing humanitarian work through faith-based or community organizations, participating in student or academic exchanges, or doing business and creating jobs, Delaware has deep ties with many African countries. In 2011, Delaware businesses sold more than $5.5 billion in goods and services to foreign markets -- and 88 percent of companies that exported were small- or medium-sized businesses. Job creation and economic growth in Delaware depend on our engagement overseas, and we have to do more to reach fast-growing new markets in Africa if we want to stay competitive.

We have an opportunity to seize this moment and promote economic engagement that strengthens the U.S. economy and creates jobs. To do that, we must do more to coordinate strategy and use existing resources more efficiently and effectively. Otherwise, we will look up in a few short years and wonder how we let this opportunity pass us by -- and why our international competitors have a head start on Delaware businesses in African markets.


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