Moderator: Good afternoon to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub. I would like to welcome our participants from across the continent and thank all of you for partaking in this discussion. Today, we are very pleased to be joined by the Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves. Deputy Secretary Graves attended the Africa CEO Forum in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, considered to be Africa’s largest annual private sector event. He is joining us today from Washington, D.C.
We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from Deputy Secretary Graves, then we will turn to your questions. We will try to get to as many of them as we can in the time that we have allotted.
If you would like to join the conversation on Twitter, please use #AFHubPress and follow us on Twitter @AfricaMediaHub.
As a reminder, today’s call is on the record, and with that, I will turn it over to Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves for his opening remarks.
Deputy Secretary Graves: Well, thanks so much, Marissa, and good morning, good day, good afternoon, good evening from wherever you are. It is really great to be here with all of you today to discuss my recent travel to Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. During last week’s visit to Abidjan and Accra, we made some excellent progress on our efforts to deepen our commercial relationships with African countries, and I look forward to sharing this over with all of you.
First off, I want to begin by providing some important context for this trip. Within the Biden administration and the U.S. Department of Commerce, the focus of our engagement across Africa is to develop deeper relationships based on mutual respect that will enable us to collaboratively overcome short-term challenges while also working towards long-term economic resiliency and prosperity.
From June 12th to June 15th, as you heard, I was in Abidjan where I participated in the Africa CEO Forum – it’s the largest annual gathering of the African private sector – to really overview some of the work that we’re doing at Commerce to strengthen the ties through the President’s Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa, the U.S.-Africa Business Summit, which will take place during the upcoming U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit that President Biden will lead. I also emphasized the United States’ interest in working with African countries to advance their development objectives through the Partnership for Global Infrastructure. It’s the Biden administration and G7 initiative that seeks to provide values-driven, high-standard, and transparent infrastructure financing to meet a variety of infrastructure needs across the continent.
Beyond my engagements at the Africa CEO Forum, I had the opportunity to meet with President Ouattara and Prime Minister Patrick Achi, where we affirmed our mutual commitment to long-term partnership across a range of shared interests, particularly attracting and supporting U.S. businesses in Côte d’Ivoire through a memorandum of understanding our countries established to facilitate deeper commercial cooperation and the Partnership for Global Infrastructure. I have to just take a moment and thank again President* Achi for a fantastic visit. He took just a great deal of time to spend with me to talk about our mutual interests, and then he hosted a dinner for me and for the delegation at his home with the cabinet of Côte d’Ivoire. It was a fantastic night, capped off by the president and some of the chiefs from his village who made me a chief. It was a fantastic way to cap off the dinner where they named me Nana Yapi Yapo*. So it was a beautiful trip, a beautiful dinner, and I am beyond honored to have been given such a fantastic – bestowed with such a fantastic honor.
Following that, last Tuesday I was also fortunate to share lunch with President Macky Sall of Senegal, where we discussed opportunities for our countries to strengthen our bilateral commercial relationship and continue partnering to ensure global supply of food and fertilizer – something we know is a challenge right now across the world – through the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and through the direct work of the President and this administration.
During my time in Abidjan, I was also asked to meet with leadership from the Africa Development Bank to discuss potential opportunities for the U.S. private sector to engage with the bank. We discussed how the U.S. Government can work with the bank on PGI and how we can do more to leverage private capital to drive infrastructure development across the continent.
Before departing for Accra on the 15th, I had the fortune of meeting with several Ivorian businesswomen to discuss some of the work we’re doing to increase diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility within the U.S. Department of Commerce and, more importantly, to hear their stories, their experiences, and recommendations on what governments, the private sector, and financial institutions can do to support women’s economic empowerment in the country and across the continent.
In Accra, I took part in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Africa Business Center, U.S.-Ghana Business Forum, to engage with the private sector representatives in attendance on specific opportunities presented by the African Continental Free Trade Area and to hear the private sector perspective on the attractiveness of the Ghanian market and the challenges that currently exist. At the business forum, I also highlighted the unique opportunity to work together on connecting the large African diaspora in the United States to commercial opportunities in Ghana and across the continent, and the Biden administration’s commitment to supporting inclusive and long-term economic recovery and resiliency.
Overall, the forum was an excellent opportunity for us to hear specifically from businesses on the ground what we can do to support increased commercial engagement between the United States and Ghana.
Additionally, I also met with Vice President Bawumia during the visit, where I reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to its partnership with Ghana. We also discussed opportunities to deepen commercial ties through our memorandum of understanding as well as the upcoming U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit and Business Forum. And I had the wonderful and productive introductory meetings with my counterparts at Ghana’s ministry of communications and digitalization, the ministry of finance, and ministry and trade and industry, to learn more about their visions for their respective ministries, and to look for opportunities to engage further through the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and the U.S.-Ghana Memorandum of Understanding.
Before we transition to your questions, I want to reinforce really an important piece of President Biden’s message that emphasized over and over during the course of my visit. That’s that the United States is committed to being a partner in solidarity, in support, and, most importantly perhaps, mutual respect to countries across Africa, and that we’re committed to working together through the short-term challenges that we’re all facing while building together for a long – for long-term stability and sustainable growth.
For our part at the U.S. Department of Commerce, we look forward to engaging further through the upcoming U.S.-Africa Business Forum, working on the Partnership for Global Infrastructure, and putting together trade missions – there’s going to be a number of them through the rest of this year – that will support the structural transformation and growth that African countries seek to realize.
Thank you all very much, and now I’m happy to take your questions.
Moderator: Thank you, Deputy Secretary Graves. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call. We ask that you limit yourself to one question related to the topic of today’s briefing: U.S. trade and investment in Africa.
Our first question will go to one that was sent in to us from Ms. Christina Okello of Radio France International out of France. Her question is: “What are your views on trade perspectives with Africa?”
Deputy Secretary Graves: Well, thank you, Christina. It’s a great question, and it’s really the – underscored the whole purpose of my trip. It was an expression of our commitment to strengthen our trade and investment ties across Africa that we believe that mutual respect and prosperity has to be at the key of everything that we do as it relates to our friends and partners in Africa.
And it’s really, I think, as part of the – as I said, the testament to that commitment that President Biden is committed to hosting the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit later this year, where we’re going to bring leaders from across the continent to talk about the commercial relationship and the broader relationship between the U.S. and our friends and partners across Africa.
We have a number of tools that we use to drive trade engagement in Africa, including our Prosper Africa Initiative, which is focusing on increasing two-way trade between the United States and many of the countries across the continent. Since we launched back in June of 2019, it’s already led to $50 billion worth of trade engagements, direct – of direct trade partnerships, and that’s across 45 different countries on the continent.
We also have Power Africa, which is really focused on making sure that we help the continent transition to a place where they have the type of power infrastructure that they need not just to make sure that every community is connected the way that they’d like, but also that we’re transitioning to a future that’s focused on renewable energy to reduce the impact of climate change. And that’s already had a massive impact. We’ve helped to create 1.3 gigawatts, or 1,300 megawatts, of new electricity for the continent. That’s – 95 percent of which is from renewable sources. That’s had a huge impact also on reduction of reliance on coal, taking about 6.8 billion pounds of coal out of production, meaning that we’re reducing that climate impact, of course making the environment better.
So those are two of the things that we’re doing. And also, something that we’re doing here at the Commerce Department, we’re set to announce our new cohort of the President’s Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa. The Doing Business in Africa initiative is something that was started during the Obama administration, Obama-Biden administration, and it continued and transformed into Power Africa, but this President’s Advisory Council has been in place since the Obama-Biden administration. And the President and the Secretary and I are really excited that we’re going to have this new cohort of leaders and partners who will help to provide us with the type of advice, recommendations, and engagement that we need to make sure that our relationship all across Africa is even deeper than it is today.
Moderator: Thank you. Next, we’ll go live and we’ll have Pearl Matibe, who is representing the Swaziland News, ask her questions. Pearl, you may ask your question.
Question: Yes. Thank you so much and good morning, Deputy Secretary Graves. I’m here in Washington, D.C., along with you. My question – and I get everything that you’re saying about working across the continent. To me, that means leaving no country behind. I’d like to ask a question that is specific to Eswatini. Eswatini is the last absolute monarch on the continent. And according to the World Bank, the World Bank confirms that poverty levels have stagnated at high levels for the last five years, that in fact the population is living under the international poverty line of $1.90 a day, inflationary pressures including the Russia-Ukraine war weakening the economy.
So in terms of private investment, then, which you’re speaking about, how might you be working to help and partner with Eswatini for its people, not for its monarch, for example? Because private investment has been low – constrained mainly by this heavy state involvement in the economy and lack of transparency on governance. So how would you approach this country so that Eswatini is not left behind? Thank you.
Deputy Secretary Graves: Of course. Thank you so much, Pearl, for that question. And it’s a challenge that I think the world is facing, is how do we ensure that people across the globe are not left behind even when you have autocratic or authoritarian leaders who are doing remarkably bad acts against their people and against other countries. So we’re seeing it the world over.
In this case, it’s part of the conversation that I had with President Macky Sall from Senegal, who, as you know, is the current chair of the African Union. It’s why we’re so supportive of the work that they are doing. They are really going to take a lead, I think, across the continent on issues like this, as they should, because it’s certainly their backyard.
We are going to continue to provide support. We’re going to continue to find ways through our various agencies: USAID – USAID and other components of the U.S. Government, but working closely with the African Union and also with the UN to make sure that the peoples of the world who are living under the thumb of autocratic or authoritarian leaders aren’t unnecessarily hurt by those actions. But the African Union is going to, I think, take the lead here, and we’re going to provide the support that we can.
And part of this is also making sure that we deal with the effects of bad actors across the globe, including what we’re seeing in Ukraine with Vladimir Putin’s unnecessary, unprovoked, unwarranted war against the free people of Ukraine. And that’s having an impact on developing countries across the globe. We’re seeing the lack of access to food and fertilizer that they need so very much. So if he would stop his war, that would certainly have an impact on places across the globe where people are facing poverty and hunger.
Moderator: Thank you. Just a reminder to our journalists, if you would like to ask a question live, please press the raise the hand button or you may feel free to type your question into the chat. Speaking – or into the Q&A. Speaking of the Q&A, we’ll go straight to a question there from Yaya Kante from AfrikiPresse out of Abidjan. Her question is: “What are some of the levers or the mechanisms that the U.S. uses to help African women to succeed in their business and to help them boost some of their activities in the business sector?”
Deputy Secretary Graves: That is a fantastic question, Yaya. I appreciate that very much. And it’s part of the reason that I hosted the gathering with Ivorian businesswomen, was specifically to get at the issues that they’re facing. Certainly, part of this is our direct engagement with the governments of countries across the globe, and specifically in Côte d’Ivoire it was talking about the ways that we can support women, which includes investment in and growth and direct trade between small and mid-sized enterprises in Côte d’Ivoire and across the continent because we know that women play a large part in driving those businesses. That typically is where women business owners get their start.
But it’s also, as I said in my opening remarks, it’s connecting the diaspora here in the United States with businesses and businesswomen across the continent. The United States has a unique relationship in a lot of ways with Africa, and because we have – certainly have millions of citizens of the United States who actually came from Africa and immigrated to the United States and have deep connections. Beyond that, we have tens of millions of Americans who, yes, they’re Americans first, but they think of themselves as African-Americans. So they have that deep connection to Africa, and so that certainly plays into the work that we do to support women.
The Commerce Department has a wonderful initiative, WELLTI, that is focused specifically on supporting women in all of the region, really all across the globe, but we focused on the region. In fact, our – the very first roundtable that we hosted, in-person roundtable, was the roundtable that I did in Abidjan with Ivorian businesswomen. It’s that type of initiative where we’re specifically trying to lift up the women that I think will be important.
Beyond that, it’s infrastructure investment – because we know that if we have stronger infrastructure, not just the roads and bridges but the electrical grid, the water systems, the connectivity – something we’re doing here in the United States, we’re investing $50 billion in connecting every household, and it’s something that we want to help countries across Africa do, is create the connections with internet so that small businesswomen in communities and villages all across the continent can have the opportunity to start a business and not just sell their wares to the next village over or to another part of their own country, but across the globe.
That’s the sort of thing that we think is a huge opportunity. Because what happens with the global economy in the next 50 years is going to go through or touch Africa, and that’s why the United States is so focused on lifting up the women of Africa – because they are the future.
Moderator: Thank you. Next, we’ll go to another question submitted to us out of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo. Question comes from Rose Ngoy from Sun Magazine. Her question is: “In which areas does the United States or American private sector wish to invest in [inaudible] Africans going to benefit from those investments?”
Deputy Secretary Graves: It’s a great question. We have to find ways to ensure that those parts of Africa that are strong and stable democracies that have been good partners and allies, where there is an adherence to the rule of law, where there is a focus on transparency from the government down throughout the private sector – that support that we can provide will allow for greater stability. It will also create the right environment to get private sector investment in the countries.
That’s why we’re doing everything that we can to partner with and grow the commercial relationship between countries like Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire and the United States, strong, stable partners that have been allies and partners to the U.S. for a long time. We know that when you create that right environment, when you’re investing in infrastructure, it means that the private sector will come in. It’s something that we saw with a U.S. company in Côte d’Ivoire, ADB Group, which is partnering with Côte d’Ivoire in building hospitals across the country.
That’s going to create the ability to ensure health care, health systems, something that’s part of – that’s a pillar of the Partnership for Global Infrastructure that if you have a stable economy, if you have a stable health care system, it means that people will have the ability to focus on starting and growing businesses, creating more jobs for more people.
And on a continent like Africa where the median age keeps getting younger, we have to focus as well on skills development. This is something that the United States is deeply committed to doing, something the President has specifically focused on, making sure that this is not about the United States exploiting or extracting from African countries; it’s about a mutual partnership where we are investing in not just the resources investment but the human capital, making sure that we are not bringing in our workforce to do the work of building infrastructure.
We’re actually going to be training. We are and will be training Africans to do the work so that they can have the knowledge that will allow them to maintain their infrastructure and build new infrastructure going forward.
So that’s the type of mutual partnership that it’s going to take, but it requires using all of our tools: USTDA, the Development Finance Corporation, USAID, EXIM Bank, MCC, Commerce, State, and so many parts of the federal government all working together. And that’s what the President is committed to doing, is having us work in concert but listening to our partners on the continent to understand what it is that they want, not telling them what they should want.
Moderator: Thank you. Next we have a question that’s in our chat and in our Q&A from Ms. Lauriane Ngameni Ngounou of Vision 4 Television out of Cameroon. The question is – and it really speaks to what you were just saying, sir – is: “How does the U.S. help African entrepreneurs to be more productive?” So that’s the – that’s the first question. I’d like you to dovetail that with the question about Prosper Africa in general. You were already talking and sort of gave a litany of U.S. Government agencies that are working together to kind of be a one-stop shop for – to create that two-way trade. So, first, how does the U.S. help entrepreneurs? And then secondly, could you just talk to us a little bit more about that structure of Prosper Africa and how it works to increase the two-way trade?
Deputy Secretary Graves: Sorry. I didn’t want you to have to hear me coughing or clearing my throat. The – it’s a fantastic question because it goes to the heart of everything that we feel that we need to do. We have a number of tools, as I’ve already discussed. The great thing – and I’ll start with this – is the U.S. Department of Commerce, as part of its International Trade Administration, has some of the most talented people in the entire federal government through our Foreign Commercial Service.
The Commercial Service, which has staff throughout the continent, is engaging directly with businesses and business organizations across the continent. We’re working with our partners at the American Chamber of Commerce, AmCham, and also the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to identify specific opportunities, specific companies where there may be opportunities for direct trade, where there are ways to help the continent’s small businesses enter into the U.S. market. That also includes the work that we do through our SelectUSA initiative, where we’re bringing – where we’re bringing delegations, where we’re bringing businesses from all across the globe. But we’re very focused right now on African businesses, helping them to access the U.S. market, coming into the U.S. and see opportunities. We have centers across the U.S. that are very focused especially on the diaspora, connecting our small and midsized enterprises here in the U.S. directly with those businesses in Africa.
But we know that without capital, at many times these smaller firms are not going to be successful. That’s why we’re so focused on working in direct coordination, much more streamlined effort than we’ve done in the past with the Development Finance Corporation, with EXIM Bank, with U.S. Trade and Development Administration, with the Millennium Challenge Corporation. It’s something that the Foreign Commercial Service and our friends and partners at the State Department are doing every day, is to make that easier for U.S. businesses and for African businesses.
But the key is – as I go back to the start, is two things. One, infrastructure. If you don’t have a strong and resilient infrastructure, you are not going to be successful as a small businessperson. And the other thing is supporting those initiatives that African countries are doing already, like the African Continental Free Trade agreement, or Free Trade Area – excuse me. The AFCFTA we think is a fantastic vision for what the 55 African Union members can do for their future. And it’s something that we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how we can use AFCFTA and, of course, AGOA to support increased trade. I was pleased to meet with Secretary General Mene at the end of last year to talk about ways that the U.S. can support the AFCFTA and ways that we can use and expand on AGOA, because we know that that type of trade agreement is the key to our commercial relationship between the U.S. and African countries. Thank you.
Moderator: Thank you. It looks like that is all the time that we have today, but there is one more question, sir, in the chat, and I think this is one that pertains to quite a few African countries. Again, this is from Rose Ngoy of Sun Magazine out of the Democratic Republic of Congo. And her question is: “What about when there is peace? How are we – when there is no peace and there is conflict in the area. For the situation in DRC, how can the U.S. assist in helping people to come to invest when there may not be peace in some regions?”
Deputy Secretary Graves: Well, it’s a really good question. It’s not always an easy one to answer. It’s why we’re so focused on doing what we can to work to strengthen and stabilize countries that already have good democratic values and those that are struggling but have a commitment to finding peace for their people. We know that part of the challenge particularly in the continent, as I said, where the median age is getting younger, when you have poverty, when you have high rates of unemployment, when you have disaffection, you have people who don’t believe in government or don’t believe in institutions and rule of law, but that leads to the type of challenge that so many countries across the world are seeing.
So the more that we can do to create stability, the more that we can do to invest in infrastructure, provide support to countries that believe in democratic values, that believe in the rule of law and transparency, that will allow their people to feel like there is hope. And as I say all the time, people have hopes and they have dreams. The challenge is that unless they are provided the opportunity to turn those hopes and dreams into reality, they turn to other – they turn to other things because the despair takes root. And to the extent that we can create opportunities for economic growth, for jobs, for stability where people can continue to hope and aspire to something better, it will allow many countries like the DRC to get to a place where they have the stability that they need because people say, “I’d rather believe in this system, one that is free and open and will provide the safety that I need for me and my family and an opportunity for my kids. I’ll believe in that,” as opposed to the other types of things that we’re seeing in so many parts of Africa, including the Sahel, as well as parts of the entire globe.
But thank you for that question and, Marissa, thank you so much.
Moderator: Okay. Thank you, sir. That is all the time that we have for today. Deputy Secretary Graves, do you have any final words, parting remarks?
Deputy Secretary Graves: Well, I’ll just go back to where I started, and that’s that the United States is committed to working with the governments of Africa utilizing the AFCFTA, utilizing AGOA, utilizing our initiatives – Prosper Africa, Power Africa, the PACDBIA, the President’s Advisory Council for Doing Business in Africa – and all of the different tools of the federal government to expand our trade both bilaterally and the work that we’re doing multilaterally across the continent.
We see Africa as a huge opportunity for partnership, for economic growth that, as I said, is about mutuality. It’s about shared partnership. This is not exploitation or extraction. This is about providing the investment, the resources, the knowhow, the skills so that Africa can continue to grow and find stability and be a long-term economic partner for the United States. That’s all we ask for, is we hope that African countries see or view the United States as the partner of choice going forward for the upcoming 10, 20, 50, 100 years.
Moderator: That concludes today’s briefing. I would like to thank Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce Don Graves for speaking to us today, and all of our journalists for participating. If you have any questions about today’s briefing, you may contact the Africa Regional Media Hub at AFMediaHub@state.gov. Thank you.
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