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Public Statements

Africa Visit

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, I rise to discuss President Obama's trip to Africa that began yesterday. There is no shortage of important issues to address on the continent, from continued instability in eastern Congo, Mali, and Somalia, to autocratic government in Zimbabwe, Sudan, and the Gambia.

Yet there is also another story to tell in Africa--that of a growing and more prosperous middle class. In fact, in the past 10 years, 6 of the world's fastest growing economies were located in Sub-Saharan Africa and in the next decade, 7 of the top 10 will also be in Africa. A growing middle class is important not only for political stability and economic well-being, but also for American businesses that export--or want to export--to Africa.

It is an issue I have been trying to draw attention to for some time and one I am glad that the President has on his trip agenda, including by having U.S. Export Import Bank President Fred Hochberg along on his trip.

You see, every time I visit Africa I am struck by the presence of China--Chinese companies, Chinese products, Chinese workers, Chinese roads and bridges. It is not a coincidence.

China has a ravenous appetite for natural resources and also sees the great potential to sell Chinese goods to the burgeoning African market. And China has a strategy. It is aggressively investing resources and energy on the continent. It is offering low interest loans that cannot be refused.

I can remember a meeting a few years ago with the late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles. Our meeting was almost over and then I asked about China. Meles went on for at least another 30 minutes. He told me what so many others have told me. Africa wants American products and investment--and the business, labor, and environmental standards that come with them--but America doesn't seem to have a plan. China, India and others do. The loss is ours in American jobs and influence in Africa. And the African people lose by not having access to high quality American goods and services.

I can also tell you American companies are eager to get into the African market, but often face a private finance system that is stuck thinking about Africa through the prism of its past--wars, famine, strongmen dictators. I have met with them--American companies big and small--and they all tell me the same thing--the United States doesn't have a sufficiently coordinated export strategy for Africa while our global competitors do. The U.S. system of export promotion and finance is a poorly coordinated patchwork of more than a dozen government agencies that American businesses find too difficult to navigate and does not provide focused or aggressive support.

That is why earlier this year, Senators Boozman, Coons, Cardin, Landrieu, Kirk, Brown, Leahy and I introduced the Increasing American Jobs through Greater Exports to Africa Act of 2013. It is a straightforward and commonsense piece of legislation. At its simplest, this bill is about creating jobs--American jobs. It would require a coordinated government strategy to help increase United States exports to Africa.

Responsibility for overseeing the implementation of that strategy would be vested in a single position--no more agencies tripping over themselves, no more competing priorities, no more wasting time. It is supported by the Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO, the Corporate Council on Africa, and the National Small Business Association.

President Obama understands the urgency of this issue. Every day we delay, China, India, and others fill the void created by a lack of American commercial leadership on the continent. The President understands that every $1 billion in American exports supports over 5,000 jobs here at home, which is why he has advanced his National Export Initiative. Our legislation would build on this effort and seek to expand U.S. exports to Africa by 200 percent in real dollar value over the next 10 years.

Mr. President, yesterday on the cusp of President Obama's trip to Africa, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed this legislation. The timing could not be better. It is good for the American economy by helping U.S. businesses create jobs here at home by tapping into a burgeoning overseas market hungry for our products. It is good for U.S. foreign policy by keeping America in a position to maintain our global leadership in a shifting geopolitical landscape. And it is good for the people of the African continent by making superior American products and business practices more competitive and financially accessible.

I urge my colleagues to sign on to support this critical effort. While we wait, the Chinese are acting and America is falling further and further behind in Africa.

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