Trade ties top on agenda as Obama meets 26 leaders

A sign promoting the US-Africa Leaders Summit outside the US Institute of Peace in Washington, DC, July 31, 2014. PHOTO | JIM WATSON |

What you need to know:

  • US businesses have generally been hesitant to invest in Africa despite the high growth rates seen in many countries.
  • US officials are keen to boost links with a continent projected by the International Monetary Fund to record a 5.8 per cent growth in 2014.

The summit between US President Barack Obama and 50 African Heads of State kicked off in Washington on Monday evening with regional security, investment in the continent, food security and combating poaching top on the agenda.

President Uhuru Kenyatta is expected to speak at a luncheon co-hosted by the Corporate Council on Africa.

Earlier on Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry urged African ministers to embrace free-market ideals and US-African cooperation at a forum on the African Growth and Opportunity Act. Mr Kerry was due to meet with at least eight visiting African leaders by the end of day.

President Obama will address a US-Africa Business Forum on Tuesday and take part in sessions on economic growth, regional security and good governance on Wednesday.

The US is expected to unveil nearly $1 billion in business deals, more funding for peacekeeping and billions of dollars for food and power programmes during the three-day summit.

China, Europe and Japan have all held similar meetings to encourage investment in Africa, but the White House denies its Africa Summit is in response to increasing investment in Africa from China.

US businesses have generally been hesitant to invest in Africa despite the high growth rates seen in many countries.

AGOA EXTENSION

Billions of dollars in new funding is expected to be announced for Power Africa during the summit. The programme’s goal is to add 10,000 megawatts of generation capacity and 20 million new electricity customers in Africa by 2018.

Private industry has committed $7 billion to the programme since Mr Obama announced it last year, according to the Voice of America.

Some countries have said they will use the summit to lobby their interests in the US. For example, South Africa has already said its delegation will push for a 15-year extension of the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

The law gives eligible sub-Saharan Africa countries preferential treatment in their exports to the US. The programme, which began in 2000, is set to expire next year.

US officials are keen to boost links with a continent projected by the International Monetary Fund to record a 5.8 per cent growth in 2014.

While the focus is on trade, with Mr Obama last year describing Africa as “the world’s next major economic success story.”

The United States currently stands in third place in the trade standings with Africa, behind the European Union in first position and China in second.

It is clear that China’s emergence in Africa is at the forefront of American minds.

“My advice to African leaders is to make sure that if, in fact, China is putting in roads and bridges, number one, that they are hiring African workers; number two, that the roads don’t just lead from the mine to the port to Shanghai, but that there’s an ability for the African governments to shape how this infrastructure is going to benefit them in the long term,” Mr Obama said in an interview with The Economist on Friday.

Only four nations were left off the guest list — the Central African Republic, Eritrea, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

Additional reporting by AFP and VOA

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