American and African entrepreneurs and investors will meet face to face to develop relationships and to establish and expand business, trade and investment ties at the Seventh Biennial U.S.-Africa Business Summit, which convenes in Washington September 29–October 1. The summit will offer participants the chance to examine the latest in trade and investment opportunities in Africa’s most promising sectors, including agribusiness, power, financing, health and infrastructure. It will also allow both American and African entrepreneurs to network and explore deals.
Kevin Boyd, director of the Office of Africa at the U.S. Department of Commerce — who is helping to plan the summit — sat down with Africa News Report to preview the event, which is being organized by the U.S. Corporate Council on Africa (CCA). Boyd is especially optimistic about more U.S. business in Angola and Rwanda.
“You have heads of state from five to 10, possibly more, African countries coming to the summit, along with trade and finance ministers who, in many circumstances, will be leading a delegation from their private sector, looking for business partners in the United States,” he said.
Boyd cited an example to illustrate the value of such summits: “I was at the previous summit in Cape Town [two years ago] and, on the first day, I met a U.S. firm looking for African partners to do some housing projects. On the second day, I met an African firm hoping to find a U.S. firm who could partner with it on housing projects. I put the two together. You get so many chances to do that that you are not otherwise going to find. You have U.S. companies looking for business partners and opportunities and firms from sub-Saharan Africa looking for the same thing. Here is a chance to come together in the same place and find those types of partners.”
What is also appealing, Boyd said, is that there are often key government officials from both the United States and African countries present at the summit who can help — should it be necessary — to facilitate a deal.
“Conversations which could take months to arrange you can arrange in a couple of hours,” he said. Boyd, who spent 10 years working on market access for U.S. firms in Southeast Asia for the Commerce Department before picking up the Africa portfolio, said in both regions face-to-face contact is especially important. “Business is about relationships and relationships must be developed first,” he said. “How do you do that? You do that by speaking to someone face to face.”
The summit is important for two additional reasons, he said: Businesses new to the region can start exploring a new geographic area of expansion and already established companies can make new contacts. “From a cost-benefit analysis, you could spend quite a bit of money on airline tickets and setting things up” to travel to the region to explore opportunities. “Yes, you could do that, but you might want to start doing that first at the summit,” he said.
Boyd says he always advises American businesses hoping to expand into Africa to start out in a country like Canada, where they can learn the fundamental points of international trade closer to home. For Africans, he said, that rule could be useful as well: By working to enhance regional trade relationships with their neighbors, they can prepare for more complicated trade deals with the United States and Europe.
Angola, Rwanda, Mauritius
One country that shows great potential for more American business involvement, according to Boyd, is Angola. “Here is a country that prior to the economic and financial crisis … was growing at 15–20 percent a year. Yes, they have had a downturn like many other countries but they are going to bounce back and they still have tremendous growth potential. Yes, you have some U.S. firms in Angola but you could have far more.”
Angolans, he said, are eager for more U.S. companies to enter their market. Recently, the U.S. government signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) with Angola, which provides a framework in which business can expand. He said there is tremendous potential within the country’s transportation infrastructure, housing and commercial construction sectors. “We think so much of the business climate in Angola, I am sending someone on my team to Angola for six weeks to serve as the acting senior commercial officer,” he said.
Boyd is also optimistic about Rwanda. He cited the just-released World Bank report Doing Business 2010, which is published annually, to illustrate his point. “For the first time since they started doing that report, the top reformer is a sub-Saharan African country.” The report says Rwanda exemplifies the dividends of peace and good macroeconomic policies.
In the 10 areas that the World Bank measured to make that decision, Rwanda has implemented reforms in seven, he said. “One hundred eighty-three economies are part of the study. Last year, [Rwanda] ranked 143. This year it ranks 67,” he said.
Boyd praised the government of Rwandan President Paul Kagame for cracking down on corruption. “U.S. companies tell us that they are taking a very hard look at a lot of opportunities there, largely because they feel that they have a level playing field” [fair economic environment], and that is extremely important. Liberia was also credited in the report with moving fast to reform its economy.
Mauritius is another country that the report singles out, noting it rose into the top 20 places to do business in the world because of the ease of doing business there. “This is the first time you had an African country making it into the top 20 in this World Bank report,” Boyd said.
The summit will offer participants the chance to explore the latest in trade and investment opportunities in Africa’s most promising sectors, including agribusiness, power, financing, health and infrastructure. The meeting will include more than 50 industry-specific sessions where both American and African entrepreneurs can network or interact, trade industry news and explore deals.
With U.S.-Africa trade constituting only 3 percent of total U.S. trade, Boyd said, there is “tremendous potential” for growth.