2019 AGOA Private Sector Forum

On August 4th, 2019, Corporate Council on Africa and the Confederation Generale des Enterprises de Côte d'Ivoire held the AGOA Private Sector Forum in Abidjan. Throughout the sessions, there was broad agreement that there is enormous potential for trade and investment between the United States and Africa to grow across a number of sectors.

Specific panels looked at the potential in textiles and agriculture, including drawing on case studies from Ethiopia and Mauritius.  There has been huge growth in textiles, which now export $1.2 billion to the U.S. market.  African countries are working hard to attract more investment as companies shift production out of China.  60% of U.S. brands already source for 10 African countries with another 14% looking to expand into Africa. The example of the efforts Ethiopia made to attract investment are a positive example for other countries to consider.  Exporting value added agricultural products also offers a significant opportunity for African producers.  There was considerable discussion about the merits of moving up the value chain to increase processing of raw products in Africa, rather than in other countries before exporting to the U.S. 

A panel on investing in Côte d'Ivoire provided some great examples of the progress that can be made in a short time if governments accord sufficient priority to addressing private sector concerns and make it easier for domestic and foreign companies to do business. Thanks to these reforms, Cote d’Ivoire attracted a record amount of Foreign Direct Investment last year. Mauritius also provides a good example of how countries can support private sector efforts to move up value chains, as the country progressed from reliance on sugar cane to textiles, and is now looking to diversify into health, high-tech manufacturing and fintech. A key component of these successes, and others, is a shift in mindset, both in government and the private sector to adopt a focus on pursuing innovation, addressing gaps and building on existing networks.

Panelists encouraged these efforts, but also stressed the importance of upgrading infrastructure, supplying dependable and affordable energy, and fulfilling all the regulatory requirements for imports and exports.  Several panelists also encouraged African exporters to find ways to tell a more compelling story about their products to help them stand out as high-quality products that can better connect with consumers.  Throughout the process, it is critical for companies to stay in close touch with the often fast-changing market to understand and meet changes in customer tastes.

There was a strong sense that the U.S. and Africa have a bright future to write together. One observer noted that 80% of the jobs in Africa in 2030 will be in fields that don’t exist yet. African Governments are only beginning to understand the huge role that their services sectors already play, let alone how best to build on that potential to generate export earnings and employment. Key to realizing this potential will be improving the ease of doing business, the rule of law and enforcement of contracts, and removing obstacles like capital market restrictions.

Participants on the panels as well as audience members also expressed tremendous optimism and support for the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), which is already changing company perceptions and creating a sense of regional and continental markets. There is also a clear sense that African countries should spare no effort to make best use of the remaining six years of AGOA eligibility to build connections between companies and gain critical experience in new markets which will help create the right momentum to make AFCFTA a success as well in terms of expanding U.S.-Africa trade and investment.