President's Message - January/February 2019 Africa eJournal

CCA President, Florizelle LiserBy Florizelle Liser

I’m delighted to send the first message of what is proving to be a very busy, very important year for U.S.-Africa relations. On February 11-12, CCA and the US Mission to the AU hosted the U.S.-Africa Trade and Investment Forum (see our special report inside). More than 300 senior officials from the U.S. and African Governments, as well as American and African companies spent a full day talking about the direction of U.S.-Africa trade and investment relations. The clear message that came out of these discussions is that AU member states are moving very quickly to bring the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) into force.

At the end of February, 18 countries have already completed ratification of the 22 required. The expectation at the Forum was that the agreement would cross the threshold very soon, perhaps as early as March. At this year’s AU Heads of State Summit, leaders instructed their trade negotiators to complete work on the next phase of the agreement within the next 20 months. While admittedly ambitious, this is a clear indication of just how seriously AU members states are treating these negotiations.

Far from just a paper exercise, the sense at the Forum in Addis is that African governments and companies are eager to embrace the challenges involved in fostering closer integration as a means of becoming much more competitive on the global stage. In that regard, African government representatives made it clear they want to hear more from U.S. and African companies about the specific conditions they need to address as they take up sectors like services, dispute resolution and protection of intellectual property.The Forum was a great way to kick off these discussions. It was also a great way to focus attention on the importance of having the AfCFTA lead to real-world increases in African regional and global trade, including enhanced U.S.-Africa trade and investment. While we were delighted to see as many companies as we did at the Forum, there is clearly a huge opportunity for more companies to get involved in this important discussion.

We’re also hard at work on CCA’s signature event – the U.S.-Africa Business Summit, which will take place this year June 18-21 in Maputo, Mozambique. The last Summit on the continent – in Ethiopia in 2016 – included more than 1400 ministers, CEOs and executives from 46 countries. With the active and highest level support of our Mozambican co-host, we expect this year’s Summit to be a unique opportunity to focus on the key sectors driving U.S. – Africa trade and investment, including energy, ICT, health, infrastructure, agriculture and agro-processing, and finance. In energy, the Summit will showcase Mozambique’s development of the significant, newly discovered gas resources with American partners – deals which will create significant commercial opportunities across many sectors (look for more details soon on the CCA website as these deals are announced. As we lead up to the Summit, we’ll be holding some events focusing on key sectors such as Finance and Health, and helping prepare companies to take best advantage of the opportunities at the Summit in those and other sectors.

For example, on April 10 on the sidelines of the World Bank Spring meetings, CCA will host our annual Africa Finance Forum – this year focusing on the opportunities and challenges involved in Africa’s commercial banking sector such as access to foreign exchange and correspondent banking relationships. And in a separate event on Innovative Healthcare Financing in Africa, discussions will focus on raising awareness of successful processes and approaches aimed at lowering private out-of-pocket health expenditures and developing synergies between the needs of the health system and the capabilities of the private sector in Africa.

The pace of our activity reflects just how much is going on in Africa. Democratic Republic of Congo, Senegal and Nigeria have recently held elections, and are already focusing on plans to get their economies moving more quickly, including working with investors. South Africa will have its next presidential elections on May 8. Even where incumbents have been re-elected, politics are increasingly influenced by a perceived need to create jobs and support economic growth. Other countries, like Angola and Ethiopia, continue to press ahead with important economic reforms. While there are still clear challenges in a number of countries, there are also clear opportunities to engage with governments and companies in Africa – in some cases, for the first time in quite a while.

The Trump Administration is also working to develop and deploy its new Africa Strategy, including developing the Prosper Africa initiative, while looking for opportunities to consult with African countries on trade and investment ties. OPIC is making great strides working through its transition to the new Development Finance Corporation, which remains on target to be operational by October 1.

This confluence of developments on the continent and scheduled CCA events offers companies a fantastic opportunity to have input into shaping the future of the U.S.-African trade and investment relationship. American companies also have a great opportunity to raise their profile and present themselves as potential partners for their African counterparts, who are increasingly interested in finding more options to expand their business. We strongly encourage you to consider attending the June 18-21 Business Summit as part of your strategy to expand your business and find new partners in Africa’s growing markets.