Opening Plenary - What AfCFTA Means for U.S.-Africa Relations

Photo - From L to R: Florizelle Liser, President & CEO, Corporate Council on Africa, Cyril Sartor, Senior Director for African Affairs, National Security Council, H.E. Amb. Matthew Harrington, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Africa, U.S. State Department, Dr. Joy Kategekwa, Head of the Regional Office for Africa UNCTAD, H.E. Naina Andriantsitohaina, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Madagascar, Mary Beth Leonard, US Ambassador to the AU, U.S. State Department, H.E. Abou Bakr Hefny Mahmoud, Assistant Foreign Minister for African Affairs, Republic of Egypt


The Forum officially kicked off with welcome remarks from AU Trade Commissioner Albert Muchanga, who explained the importance that the AU and its members place on completing the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).  He expected that it would very soon be ratified by the 22 countries required to bring it into effect. Muchanga flagged the importance of continuing to use the access granted to the US market under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which he said complimented efforts under AfCFTA.


Dr. Joy Kategekwa, Head of the Regional Office for Africa, UNCTAD moderated the plenary. NSC Director for African Affairs, Cyril Sartor said that the United States supports the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, as well as efforts to promote regional and continental integration.  He put support for the AfCFTA into the broader context of U.S. support for programs to improve security, democracy, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Response (PEPFAR), Power Africa and other programs. He said that one of the goals of his trip to Addis was to get advice from African countries as the U.S. develops a new program, “Prosper Africa,” to promote stronger commercial ties. Sartor applauded the AfCFTA as a strong signal to the world that Africa is bringing down barriers to doing business.  Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Ambassador Matt Harrington noted that, last year, US companies on the President’s Advisory Commission for Doing Business in Africa (PAC-DBIA) had concluded $2 billion in deals during their trip to Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia and the Ivory Coast.  He noted the US recently passed the Build Act, which will double available financing for US companies to $60 billion and help make them more competitive in pursuing deals.


Egyptian Assistant Foreign Minister Mahmoud noted that Africa’s inter-regional trade, at 15% of the total, is very low compared to other regions, like Asia, and far below the continental average of 50%. He stressed the importance of working to capture the “remaining 35%” which would do a lot to boost the creation of much needed jobs and economic growth. Foreign Minister Andriantsitohaina of Madagascar said his government is working hard to strengthen the rule of law and increase programs to combat corruption as ways to improve the environment to do business. The Minister also called for more U.S. FDI, particularly in agriculture and industry. During the discussion, questions from the audience included what African companies can do to boost trade among countries, and one company stressed the importance of African governments being able to enforce the AfCFTA, arguing that none of the current regional economic agreements are currently being fully enforced. Other companies stressed the importance of African companies raising their standards to meet U.S. and international ones to enable them to join global value chains.


There was clear consensus among the speakers and members of the audience that the AfCFTA will be a game-changer, and that African countries must get ready to enact the agreement, including by implementing a number of agreements on the ground to improve the business climate.  African countries need to take steps to improve vital infrastructure, provide sufficient energy, expand access to finance, and boost skills. There was agreement that the U.S. will be a key partner.