Posted at 3:20 PM
Thank you, Arun Kumar, for your introduction. I want to recognize you and our entire Global Markets team at the Commerce Department for your excellent work and for organizing this forum.
I want to applaud Senator Isakson for his participation at this gathering and for his leadership in expanding trade and commercial engagement between the United States and Africa.
I also want to thank all of the business leaders from the United States and Africa who are here with us, as well as the local, state, and federal government officials present at this Discover Global Markets Sub-Saharan Africa Business Forum.
This Discover Global Markets event is part of a series of gatherings that we have had across the country to help American businesses obtain the tools to succeed internationally; to meet our Foreign Commercial Service teams; to identify emerging opportunities in foreign markets; to leverage government resources; and to make key contacts with local industry partners.
As we meet here in Atlanta, our thoughts are never far from the deadly outbreak of Ebola across the communities of West Africa.
Earlier today, I met with senior leaders at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to receive an update on their response to the Ebola epidemic.
We reviewed our strategies to stop the spread of the disease and to eradicate it. The approach is two-fold: On the home front here in the United States, we are working to treat each American case as it arises. We have the mechanisms in place to catch the virus quickly, to treat it properly, and to prevent it from spreading.
In West Africa, the United States is leading an international coalition to halt and resolve the crisis. We are partnering with the African Union, governments in sub-Saharan Africa, the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the European Union, and NGOs – because we know that Ebola is a global challenge in need of a global response.
With the midterm elections now over, our country has to get back to focusing on facts, not fears or rumors. Let me put the situation in West Africa in perspective:
- Africa is a continent of 54 countries, with a population of 1.1 billion. Today, Ebola is confined to just 3 countries, with a total population of roughly 21 million. And efforts are starting to turn the corner, with the growth of the disease slowing in Liberia.
- Nigeria and Senegal have had 20 cases in total, and they were able to stop the spread of the disease. Both countries are now open for business and Ebola-free.
- Of the 8 people that received treatment in the United States, 6 are cured, and one is on the road to recovery.
- The world public health apparatus has been brought to bear. Doctors, nurses, and medical workers are using the proper protocols, rooted in science, to treat patients and to slow the number of new cases.
- And governments across Africa have stepped up their screening and awareness efforts, which are allowing the private sector to conduct business as usual throughout Africa outside of the three affected countries.
In recent weeks, I have spoken with a wide range of businesses engaged in Africa about their approach to the situation on the ground.
Let me share the story of Firestone, which has been in Liberia since 1926. Firestone Liberia operates a rubber farm that covers 185 square miles. They employ 8,000 people, and their farm is home to 80,000 family members. They also have a hospital, medical facilities, and schools – all of which are run by the company.
The farm is a real community. And while they have seen 78 cases of Ebola, the company has provided the resources to tackle the immediate health challenge. At the same time, they are educating the community about how to stay healthy and prevent the virus from spreading.
You can imagine the fear of the unknown in the community. But Firestone used the tools at its disposal, including the 450 teachers that teach in their schools that exist on the farm and the local radio station, to attack the misperceptions and misinformation about Ebola and address the stigma based on misunderstanding of the disease. Doing so enabled Firestone to raise awareness about hygiene, treat the Ebola patients, and reintegrate them back into their community.
Firestone’s experience is a prime example of effective crisis management – and is evidence of the company’s commitment to the region for the long haul. The actions of Firestone and many American companies represent the best values of our business community and the best of humanity.
Despite the current challenges, Firestone and other businesses are making a long-term commitment to the nations of Africa. These private sector leaders see the opportunity across the continent – and want to seize it. And it is easy to see why:
- Africa is home to six of the ten fastest-growing economies in the world – including Chad, Congo, the Ivory Coast, Mozambique, Ethiopia, and Sierra Leone.
- Real income has increased more than 30 percent, reversing two decades of decline.
- GDP is expected to rise 6 percent each year over the next decade.
- And Africa will boast a larger workforce than either India or China by 2040.
On top of these macro-economic indicators for investment, the continent is full of young entrepreneurs aspiring to build the next Facebook or Google.
A few months ago I visited the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology, a dynamic incubator in Accra, Ghana. There, I met a group of these intrepid entrepreneurs, who were creating video games based on African folk heroes; developing payment processing technologies for the local online market; and addressing the need for a skilled workforce with online matching tools.
The men and women at Meltwater demonstrate the type of creativity and innovation you might find in the Silicon Valley or in Austin, Texas, or right here in Atlanta at Georgia Tech. Given this kind of raw human talent in combination with exciting macro-economic factors, all of you are smart to embrace the vast opportunities and possibilities in sub-Saharan Africa.
One example and one company, headquartered in nearby Duluth, Georgia, is acting on this opportunity. AGCO is a global leader in designing, developing, manufacturing, and exporting agricultural equipment. The company saw the potential for growth in sub-Saharan Africa – and has made investments in the region a priority.
In the past four years, AGCO has doubled down on its commitments and opened a $35 million parts warehouse in Johannesburg, South Africa, responding to the demand of their African customers. In addition, they established a Global Learning Center and Future Farm in Zambia, which trains local farmers and dealers in modern farming technology.
AGCO is not done yet. As the company’s Director for Africa and the Middle East has said, “We are in for the long-term in Africa. We’re coming here for 100 years and more.”
That statement sums up what I have heard directly from many American CEOs: commitment to the African markets should be for the long term.
At the U.S.-Africa Business Forum in August, the Department of Commerce brought together hundreds of American and African CEOs with nearly every African head of state, to spur more trade and investment between the United States and the 54 countries of Africa.
In fact, U.S. firms, such as Marriott, GE, and Coca-Cola, announced more than $14 billion worth of investments throughout the continent, building partnerships with African companies like Dangote Industries and the Fidelity Bank of Ghana.
The Forum generated demonstrable momentum for deeper commercial partnerships to benefit millions of people on both sides of the Atlantic.
In the three months since the summit, the Department of Commerce has facilitated in addition 150 U.S. sales in Africa worth nearly $240 million – emphasizing what President Obama has called a “new chapter in U.S.-Africa relations.” Now is the time to capitalize on this momentum.
To assure our Administration’s sustained commitment as a country to trade and investment in Africa, President Obama established the President’s Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa, led by the Department of Commerce.
The private sector leaders on this council are tasked to advise the Administration on how to expand trade between the United States and Africa, increase American participation in infrastructure and agriculture projects on the continent, and foster more entrepreneurship.
Today, just three months to the day from the President’s announcement, I am pleased to name the members of this council. And I am proud that some of these leaders are here today, including:
- Walé Adeosun of Kuramo Capital
- Teresa Clarke of Africa.com
- Melissa Cooke of African Sunrise Partners
- Kevon Makell of SEWW Energy
- Rahama Wright of Shea Yeleen
These business leaders come from diverse backgrounds and sectors, including finance, energy, medicine, agriculture, and more – all have extensive expertise and experience in various African markets.
With our Foreign Commercial Service teams on the front lines and our partnership with the members of the DBIA council, our goal is to make doing business in Africa easier for all American companies.
Beyond taking the lead in organizing the President’s Advisory Council, the Department of Commerce strives every day to expand the footprint of American business on the continent.
We have doubled the number of commercial offices in Africa, with new sites in Angola, Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Tanzania. This will put more Foreign Commercial Service Officers on the ground to help American businesses navigate the African marketplace.
In December, we will host the Trade Ministers from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi in Washington, D.C., for a commercial dialogue. It is our goal to sign agreements with each nation to reduce trade barriers and deepen our trade relations.
Next February, our department will lead a trade mission to South Africa, Mozambique, and Kenya, focused on energy, transportation, infrastructure, agriculture, and medical technology. And next September, we will hold our Trade Winds Conference in Africa for the very first time, bringing hundreds of U.S. companies to meet face-to-face with African business leaders.
Fifteen years ago, at the World Economic Forum, Nelson Mandela outlined his economic vision not only for South Africa, but for all of Africa’s people.
He forcefully asserted that political freedom across the continent would open doors to economic progress. He expressed how democratic reform and respect for human rights would lead to “the reintegration of the African economies into the world economy, no longer as dependent participants.”
President Mandela’s vision set the stage for where we stand today: African nations are an integral part of the global economy. And let me be clear: we in the Obama Administration will continue to build the commercial partnerships between the United States and the countries of Africa.
The United States will continue to help the nations of West Africa halt the Ebola crisis. And the United States will continue to work with all of you to keep Africa open for business – for American business and for global business.
Thank you all for being here today and for working every day to build new connections of trade and investment across the Atlantic.