Africando 2001 to promote trade with Africa, Caribbean
When manufacturers, policymakers, trade promoters and others from nations in Africa and the Caribbean gather in Miami next month, local entrepreneurs will have a chance to learn of future business partners.
Anthony Okonmah, event organizer and executive director of the Foundation for Democracy in Africa at St. Thomas University, said Africando 2001 will bring experts on trade policy and those looking for business leads from May 2-5 at the Port of Miami's Terminal 12 Building.
The foundation, based in Washington, DC, created the Miami symposium in 1997 to educate businessmen and legislators and draw support from the trade community while Congress debated the approval of the Trade & Development Act 2000, which then-President Bill Clinton last May signed into law.
The act, which includes the African Growth and Opportunity Act and the US-Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership aims at expanding two-way trade and creating incentives for the countries of sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean basin.
Trade observers say both regions are making important progress in reforming their economies and political systems.
Bryant Salter, director of African trade-expansion programs for Enterprise Florida, a public-private group promoting international trade and one of the sponsors of the event, said Florida was moving forward in its efforts to increase business with Africa.
"It is important to develop relationships," said Mr. Salter, who led efforts to open a Florida office in South Africa this year the first Enterprise office on the continent. "But we need to do some groundwork before we can see new business or a sustainable trade."
The office in South Africa opened after state lawmakers last year, he said, passed legislation directing Enterprise Florida to establish trade links in Africa.
The symposium, with activities focusing on business-matching, will seek to send a message that increasing trade with those regions would not only help those in international commerce but entire nations, Mr. Okonmah said.
"I always say," he said, "trade is better than aid, because trade creates jobs, a constant source of income for families. So far African countries have received a total of $20 billion in aid and not much has changed."
Product exhibitions, roundtables, panel discussions, keynote speakers and tours of Miami's seaport and airport are on the agenda, Mr. Okonmah said. He said Gov. Jeb Bush and Mr. Clinton are among invited speakers.
Europe always has been the main trading partner with sub-Saharan countries, he said.
"But Africa is ready for a change," Mr. Okonmah said. "They have been buying European products for decades and many are tired of always the same thing. American products are very attractive to Africans and some of their products are in high demand."
Mr. Okonmah said the US had been slow to react to African trade opportunities that European and Asian corporations were exploiting.
"The US used to think Africa was too far," he said. "But in the era of globalization, we live in a world were no country is too far anymore."
The 48 countries of sub-Saharan Africa constitute a market of more than 700 million people, he said.
US exports to Africa, worth more than $6.5 billion in 1998, are more than 45% greater than the exports to all the countries of the former Soviet Union combined, according to a White House document.
"Although exports to Africa grew more than 8% in 1998, our trade with Africa accounts for only 1% of our total trade," the document said.
Nigeria, Angola, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Ghana, Cote'd Ivoire are some of the top African trade partners, Mr. Okonmah said.
"With US trade deficit currently running in an excess of $10 billion with Africa, exporting US manufactured goods will be a practical way to reduce the deficit," he said.
The African Growth & Opportunity Act calls for annual high-level discussions to promote trade, investment and development. It also includes developing a plan to establish a free trade agreement with the sub-Saharan countries and encouraging the American private sector to take a more active role in fighting AIDS/HIV in Africa.
Under this act, the US, which account for 6.1% of the African market, while Asian exports capture 28%, agreed to give duty-free treatment to almost all products from those 48 African nations. It also grants duty-free and quota-free benefits to apparel made in Africa from US yarn and fabrics and to apparel made in Africa with African fabrics, among other measures, experts said.
The US-Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act was established to promote trade among the states and 23 independent countries in the Caribbean, which together formed the sixth-largest export market for US goods in 1999, the White House document said.
"This is a good time," said Gabriel Pascual, president of the Central America Chamber of Commerce, based in Miami, "to hold this event in Miami a city that lives off international trade. We will continue seeing symposiums on regional trade as more" trade agreements are worked out.
He said most of the Central American countries benefit from the Caribbean Basin initiative. US exports to the Caribbean reached $19 billions in 1999 and that region absorbed 2.7% of total US exports in 1999, trade figures show.
"But Hurricanes Mitch and Georges in 1998 caused $12 billion in damage," the document said. "The Caribbean act will offer temporary trade benefits to facilitate their economic development of trade and investment policies."
The partnership act extends preferential tariff treatment to certain textile and apparel products assembled from US fabric and to textile handicrafts and all non-textile products not included in a 1984 Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act, among other benefits.
African officials are scheduled to address some the efforts they are making to combat AIDS and HIV, the lack of transparency in the public and private sector and endemic violence that has limited investment in some nations. A panel is to discuss the impact that planned changes by the World Trade Organization will have on the US trade with Africa and the Caribbean.
As participants learn about trading with Africa, Mr. Salter said, it could give way to new partnerships.
"To be partners you need to have an understanding of who you are negotiating with," he said. "The more you know about someone's background, the more that person will trust you."
Miami-Dade County Commissioner Dennis Moss, who accompanied a first-time trade delegation to Nigeria in February and paved the way for future sister seaport and sister airport agreements, said accords could be signed during next month's symposium.
The official signing of a sister airport and seaport agreement between Miami-Dade and Nigeria is planned for Africando 2001, said Petula Burks, public affair director for Mr. Moss.
The pacts, she said, would entail exploring consulting services, security issues, personnel training, technical assistance and information on investment opportunities in airport and seaport infrastructure.
For more information about the trade conference, call 305 347-4910.