Rosa Whitaker, CEO and president of the Whitaker Group, a Washington, D.C.-based consultancy specializing in trade and investment in Africa, maintains that Africa has been “America’s blind spotâ€ for far too long. Says the former assistant U.S. trade representative for Africa for the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations: “In 2009, China overtook the U.S. as Africa’s largest trading partner, and China now has a $200 billion trade relationship in Africa compared to America’s $85 billion. We cannot afford to ignore the region with the fastest-growing consumer class and the fastest-growing consumer market. More than $1 trillion in consumer spending is African.â€
Former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, honored at “A Gathering of PanAfrica Leadersâ€ last August, has been encouraging African Americans to conduct business with Africa for decades, and for good reason: The return on investment in sub-Saharan Africa is more than four times greater than the return here. “Africa is the hope of a stable global economy,â€ he says. “There’s no question that Africa is the wealthiest continent on the face of the earth, but its wealth is more than its markets and its minerals.â€
But there are barriers to entrepreneurial activity. As long as the threat of the Ebola virus continues to cast its shadow across West Africa, borders with the hardest hit nations–Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea–will likely remain closed. According to the World Bank, unless the epidemic is quickly contained, the outbreak of Ebola could cost the West African economy $32.6 billion by the end of 2015, though the economic impact could be limited if action is taken now to stop the fear which has driven neighboring countries to close borders and suspend flights as well as companies to halt commercial activities. (See reports on BlackEnterprise.com.)
Another challenge: The African Growth and Opportunity Act, better known as AGOA, has yet to be reauthorized by Congress. The 14-year-old law, which expires Sept. 30, 2015, offers tangible incentives for African countries to open their economies and build free markets. Meeks says the act has served as another door for small and minority-owned U.S. businesses to establish relationships with African entrepreneurs. And the Export-Import Bank was granted a nine-month extension before its charter expired on Sept. 30, 2014, but many remain worried about its future. If the export-financing agency is not reauthorized by June 30, 2015, large numbers of small businesses will not gain the assistance they need to sell products abroad. The agency recently reported that it supported more than $2 billion in minority and women-owned business exports in fiscal year 2014.
Check back tomorrow for Part 3.