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Doing Business in Africa Forum Presents Opportunities for American Businesses in Sub-Saharan Region

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Francisco Sánchez, Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade and Minority Business Development Agency National Director David Hinson Address the Doing Business in Africa Forum

Guest blog post by Francisco Sánchez, Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade and David Hinson, National Director, Minority Business Development Agency

Earlier this week, we attended the Doing Business in Africa Forum at the White House. This was the first forum of the Doing Business in Africa campaign that the Commerce Department launched three months ago in Johannesburg, South Africa. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank gave the opening remarks and focused on strengthening commercial ties between the United States and Sub-Saharan Africa. She emphasized that as the continent’s wealth increases, so does the demand for improved infrastructure, energy services, and high-quality consumer and agricultural products – all of which American companies are well positioned to provide. In fact, Sub-Saharan Africa is home to six of the ten fastest-growing countries in the world, which helps explain why over the past decade, U.S. trade to and from Africa has tripled, with U.S. exports now topping $21 billion.  Michael Strautmanis, Deputy Assistant to the President and Counselor for Strategic Engagement, welcomed the group of federal government officials, African-born U.S. business and financial leaders, and African-American entrepreneurs, corporate executives, fund managers and investment advisors. Mr. Strautmanis emphasized the need for a collective approach from federal agencies to provide expanded investment and trade financing support to help U.S businesses become more effective global competitors, particularly in the Sub-Saharan region.

Amplifying that message, both of us, along with representatives from government entities including the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, Export-Import Bank, Small Business Administration, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, U.S. Trade and Development Agency and Millennium Challenge Corporation, described for the assembled group how all of our services are structured under the Doing Business in Africa campaign to help them seize opportunities in the Sub-Saharan Africa region. 

Among the Department of Commerce resources we discussed:

  • MBDA’s network of over 40 Business Centers across the country that assist minority-owned and Diaspora-owned businesses in gaining access to contracts, to capital, and to new markets in places such as Africa. MBDA’s website at www.mbda.gov provides detailed information on that assistance.
  • Export.gov/Africa as a great source of information about the government resources available to companies who are looking to expand into this increasingly rich and diverse marketplace.

It’s important to note that U.S. Census data shows that minority-owned firms are twice as likely to export their products and services as non-minority-owned firms. That’s why we think it’s smart for us to reach out to minority-owned businesses that are eager to expand into emerging markets such as Sub-Saharan Africa but need assistance gaining access. We also want to support the exporting efforts of African-born entrepreneurs operating businesses here in the U.S., who often have strong personal and commercial ties to Africa. Several African American and African-born U.S. business owners who are already selling their products and services in African markets shared best practices and success stories with the forum audience.

As Deputy Secretary Blank stressed and we reiterated to the business leaders at the forum, we want to be economic partners in their entry and expansion in the region. When U.S. products and services reach Sub-Saharan Africa, it will help fuel growth and enhance prosperity for Africans and create jobs here in America. These are goals we all share, and we look forward to working with U.S. businesses to achieve them.

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RE: Harnessing the African-born US Talent

I applaud all the parties that are involved in these efforts. An idea that flashed across my mind when reading about the challenges that Western businesses face in foreign subsidiary staffing is how US businesses can harness the cultural experiences of first-generation, African-born naturalized US citizens to expand their businesses into sub-Saharan Africa. In particular, all I read about in Western business reports is how China, Japan, S. Korea, and other Asian companies are extending their tentacles into Africa, but I hardly see any efforts being made by US Corporations to set root in the region. My question is: Why can't businesses like GE, FORD, etc. take advantage of the tons of African-born, business savvy Americans to figure out how to capture some of these emerging markets before businesses from other countries capture them? It is fine to whine about China's unfair business practices, but I think for us to keep up or even beat the competition, we need to roll up our sleeves and go to work. First, an African-born business leader needs minimal adaptation when he or she goes to head a Nairobi- or Kampala-based subsidiary. Second, he or she will more than likely be able to find business connections faster than your typical "expatriate", who goes to start from scratch. My point is: Let's stop making this seem like rocket science. We need to start thinking basics, and seriously consider how we can best use the rich resources we have in this country in form of cultural diversity to our advantage. I am not offering myself for this purpose, but I know a lot of first generation African immigrants in management positions here in the US that would not hesitate to take up the challenge to go plant the seed of American business in a remote corner of the old continent.

Thanks,

Mutonyi