A group of business leaders led Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is in South Africa for three days to explore investment opportunities.
The group, which includes senior executives from Boeing, Electro-Motive Diesel Inc. (the diesel-electric locomotive manufacturing subsidiary of Caterpillar), FedEx Express, Walmart and General Electric, participated Monday in a U.S.-South Africa Business Summit in Johannesburg.
Clinton is meeting with South African government and industry leaders as part of a regular series of meetings to enhance economic and political ties between the two nations. The heads of the Overseas Private Investment Corp., the Export-Import Bank, and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency are also on the trip, as is Francisco Sanchez, the undersecretary of commerce for international trade.
In June, President Obama announced a new strategy for helping sub-Saharan Africa prosper through trade and investment. South Africa is the biggest market in Africa for American goods.
Part of a wider effort to increase U.S. exports, the strategy aims to help nations with regional integration and accessing global markets, as well as encouraging U.S. companies to invest in the region.
Last year, U.S. exports to sub-Saharan Africa were slightly more than $21 billion and economic growth in the region is expected to be about 6 percent in 2012, according to the Commerce Department.
But graft, corruption, weak legal frameworks, customs delays, weak enforcement of intellectual property rights, and poor infrastructure pose challenges for foreign companies doing business in that part of the world.
In his official blog, Sanchez said the International Trade Administration has begun developing a campaign to get companies to export to Africa. It involves meeting with the African diaspora communities in the United States to raise awareness of federal assistance programs for doing business on the continent.
In September, the Commerce Department will lead an aerospace trade mission to South Africa and a multi-sector trade mission is scheduled for South Africa and Zambia in November.
The ITA is also working to structure intellectual property guidelines and host workshops to train government officials in Africa on protecting U.S. goods from trademark and copyright infringement.
In remarks to the business summit, Clinton said the United States seeks sustainable partnerships in Africa that provide mutual benefit.
"And one of the ways we are building those partnerships is to look to enhancing and strengthening the ties between American businesses and African businesses because, as we look across sub-Saharan Africa, we see enormous economic growth even as the global economy continues to struggle. Seven of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies are in this region. And these emerging markets present enormous opportunities not only for the people themselves, who we hope will benefit because of inclusive, broad-based prosperity arising from growth, but also for American businesses who have a lot to offer," she said.
South Africa plans to make major energy, transportation and communications infrastructure investments during the next 20 years, which will create opportunities for U.S. companies, she added. - Eric Kulisch