John Kerry: Africa-US Summit

John Kerry: Africa-US Summit

Washington (AFP) – US companies are planning $14 billion worth of investments in Africa, a White House official said Tuesday as the US-Africa Leaders Summit turned its focus to boosting commercial ties.

President Barack Obama is to announce the investment projects later in the day as he addresses some 45 heads of state and government from the African continent invited to Washington for the historic gathering.

The first day of the summit, the largest such meeting ever held in the US capital, saw American officials chiding their guests over democratic reform and civil rights.

But now Obama and titans of US commerce and industry will try to convince their counterparts that America is as determined to take part in Africa’s growth story as China or Europe.

Hundreds of US and African business chiefs will join the political leaders in forums, including the top executives of General Electric, Coca-Cola and Walmart, and African tycoons such as Aliko Dangote, Mo Ibrahim and Ashish Thakkar, the young founder of the tech-focused Mara Group.

Secretary of State John Kerry was straightforward about Washington’s aims.

“I say unabashedly: We want and we will work hard to get more American companies to invest in Africa,” he said Monday. “We also want more African companies to invest here in the United States, and there’s no reason that they shouldn’t.”

Amid African criticism that American businesses are less knowledgeable and more afraid of risks on the continent than European and Asian rivals, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said the US government would boost efforts to build commercial ties.

“The time to do business in Africa is no longer five years away. The time to do business is now.”

Pritzker stressed that building trade and investments with Africa would be good for both sides, helping African countries develop and creating jobs in the United States.

“As Africa’s middle class continues to expand, we hope to see our export numbers grow,” she said.

The United States remains the largest source of investment on the continent, but most of that has been in the oil and gas sector.

Meanwhile, China and Europe have built stronger positions in infrastructure, manufacturing and trade, with China’s trade with Africa more than double that of the United States.

A White House official said the new investments being announced will span a range of industries, including construction, clean energy, banking and information technology.

Stephen Hayes of the Corporate Council on Africa, a US business group, said Tuesday’s private sector meetings could get US companies more interested in the continent.

“From the standpoint of the US, we need CEOs to be more engaged,” he said.

“For America to be able to compete for the long term, with China and others, they are going to require partnerships.”