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.
- The International Trade Administration’s staff in more than 100 U.S. cities and 70 countries , including across Africa, who help to guide American businesses through every step of the export process — from helping solve financing issues to overcoming regulatory challenges.
- 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.