Thursday, June 3, 2010

Obama Administration Committed to AGOA Partnership with Africa

The Obama administration is very much committed to a strong partnership with Africa, and the ninth annual U.S.-Sub-Saharan Africa Trade and Economic Cooperation Forum - better known as the AGOA Forum - in August is part of that commitment, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson told African diplomats May 26.

Addressing the African diplomatic corps at the State Department, Carson said: "We want to find ways to make this partnership beneficial to the United States and, most importantly, to Africa and the people of Africa. ... We are doing everything that we can to reach out to strengthen the partnership and add value to it. The African Growth and Opportunity Act [AGOA] Forum is one of those ways and we want to build on it."

This year, he said, the annual AGOA Forum will begin in Washington and be followed by a session in Kansas City, Missouri. In Kansas City, Carson said, "we hope to engage with the agro-industries and agro-processing sectors of America and link them up with productive relationships, networking with your governments - taking advantage of something that, frankly, you have a comparative advantage in - agro-industry."

"We are committed," Carson said, "but we need your cooperation, we need your public will and your governments' public support. We want to do something that is positive."

Carson also told the African diplomats that he needs their ideas on where the United States and African countries can collaborate best. Saying he was paraphrasing sentiments expressed by President Obama, Carson said: "As much as we want to help and to be a partner, the future of Africa is in the hands of Africans and their leaders. We cannot will or hope or be able to achieve for you the enormous success that you desire and deserve without you, in fact, leading the way to get there. We cannot want it or achieve it more than you do. But if you give us an opportunity to do so, we will find a way to do so in the spirit of partnership and friendship."

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Karl Wycoff told the meeting that the 2010 AGOA Forum will have as its theme "AGOA at 10, New Strategies for a Changing World." It will be held in two parts: August 2-3 in Washington and August 5-6 in Kansas City. (AGOA recently celebrated its 10th anniversary.)

"Trade and economic cooperation are two of the many important links between sub-Saharan Africa and the United States," Wycoff said.

"The AGOA Forum is the only annual U.S. ministerial with sub-Saharan Africa," Wycoff said. "In this time of economic crisis, it is important that we work cooperatively to protect economic growth and lessen the negative impact of market fluctuation."

Wycoff added that forum organizers have been working closely with members of civil society and the private sector to "ensure that we have captured their concerns, as well as those of governments."

Civil society events on July 28-29 will precede the formal opening of the forum, he told the diplomats. The formal meetings will begin August 2 and conclude the following day. Sessions will touch on the impact of the economic downturn, strategies to promote the next wave of growth, strategies for expanding U.S.-sub-Saharan-African trade, the Feed the Future initiative ( http://www.america.gov/st/texttrans-english/2010/May/20100520164738eaifas0.9879354.html ) and integrating Africa's women in to the global economy.

The second part of the forum in Kansas City opens with a breakfast meeting August 5 and ends on August 6, and will include site visits to local U.S. agriculture companies.

"We are very excited about this part of the forum. We chose to put together this hybrid forum, taking it outside Washington for the first time, to allow a larger number of American businesses to get to know their African counterparts in a way they would not" if the forum stayed in Washington, Wycoff said. "We aim to enhance personal contacts between investors, buyers and sellers on both sides of the ocean to try to jump-start trade and investment to help fulfill AGOA's promise."

Wycoff acknowledged that there have been criticisms that AGOA has not lived up fully to its potential, and said this year's "hybrid forum" is an effort to respond to those criticisms. He then invited the African diplomats to make their ideas known to the organizers to ensure the event is as successful as possible.

Speaking for the African diplomatic corps in Washington, Ambassador Roble Olhaye of Djibouti said the State Department meeting marked a good opportunity to discuss the ninth AGOA Forum. "We are very happy with the innovation that you are introducing this year, splitting the forum between Washington and America's heartland," he said. "We believe this is a very good initiative. ... Africa's continued development and stability, to a large extent, depends on widening the base of the private sector."

The briefing at the State Department also featured remarks from representatives of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency and concluded with a question-and-answer period during which African diplomats could offer their suggestions and voice their concerns.

(by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State)