9:30 A.M. EDT
THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MODERATOR: Hello, and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. Today we have a preview briefing of the African Growth and Opportunity Forum. There will be a live media round table here in Washington, and we are also reaching out via teleconference and digital video to our colleagues at the African media hub in Johannesburg.
Let me introduce our speakers now starting with Ms. Amy Holman, the director of Economic Policy Staff for the U.S. Department of State; Patrick Dean Coleman, director for African Affairs at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative; Paul Marin, regional director for Sub-Saharan Africa at the U.S. Trade and Development Agency; and John Andersen, deputy assistant secretary for Market Access and Compliance with the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Without further ado, I will hand the floor over to Ms. Holman who will deliver opening remarks.
MS. HOLMAN: Good morning, and thank you for joining us, and we're really pleased to be here today to discuss our plans for two events: the African Growth and Opportunity Act Forum that we call "the forum," which will be held later this week, Thursday and Friday, June 14th and 15th here in Washington, D.C.; and then the following week, again, Thursday and Friday, June 21st and June 22nd, we'll be holding a follow-on event, the U.S.-Africa Business Conference, which we're calling US-ABC in Cincinnati, Ohio. And I'd just like to take a couple minutes and outline these two events for you, and then we'll be happy to take any questions after my colleagues have had a chance to give brief remarks.
The theme of our 2012 forum is enhancing Africa's infrastructure for trade. Why did we choose infrastructure? Well, we've been looking at AGOA very carefully, and we've been looking also through parallel exercises in the U.S. Government, what are constraints to growth for African countries. African countries have been doing a great job, strong records of growth, keeping their macroeconomic houses in order, unlike some of us. And - but what we've isolated as one key factor to - which constrains growth and constrains trade is infrastructure. We've seen that in the case of bilateral trade, and even more importantly in the case of intraregional trade. And unlocking intraregional trade between African countries is really going to be a key to growth. So we wanted to take a deeper look at this issue, mobilize U.S. Government resources to see how - what we can do to help. So that's why we've chosen this theme.
And like every year, this event will be high-level dialogues that are going to focus on the linkages between trade, investment, and economic growth, as well as strengthening Africa's countries' ability to take advantage of trade opportunities under AGOA. And we'll be bringing together senior U.S. Administration officials, including the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Ron Kirk, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, and two senators - Senator Coons and Senator Isakson, as well as other senior Administration officials, African Government ministers, and participants from both the U.S. and Africa's civil society stakeholders. And we'll be holding a number of discussions, a number of plenaries, and we're looking forward to a very, very robust discussion on how we can better promote trade, economic growth, employment, and generating income both on the continent and here in the United States.
Now I'd like to turn and take a few moments to outline the U.S.-Africa Business Conference, which will take place in Cincinnati, Ohio June 21st through 22nd. We're really excited about this conference. We've gotten very robust registrations, and what we're looking to do is create deeper and broader private sector linkages between Sub-Saharan Africa and our AGOA-eligible countries and the U.S. business sector.
This event responds to requests we've gotten from our African colleagues for a broader and deeper interaction with the U.S. private sector. And our target audience includes the trade and other ministers who will be coming to the AGOA event, business leaders from both African continent and also from the United States, as well as U.S. Government officials. My colleagues around the table and representatives from their agencies as well as other U.S. Government agencies will be participating in this event, which the State Department, my agency, is organizing.
We're focusing on three themes. We're focusing on energy, transportation - both land and aviation, and also on water and transportation. Why have we chosen these three sectors? These three sectors we've identified by looking at all sorts of reports ranging from the World Bank to analysis that we have done in the U.S. Government to analysis that's been done by the regional economic communities on the continent and by the African Union to identify which sectors might be more - most propitious.
And so I'm going to leave it there, and I'd like to turn it to my colleague from the United States Trade Representative's Office, Patrick Dean Coleman.
MR. COLEMAN: Thank you, Amy. Thank you very much. The only thing I would like to add is about the partnership that AGOA involves, the partnership on different levels, not just interagency partnership of people around the table here, but also civil society, the private sector, and government working together, and the three different forums that we have that go on.
AGOA legislation asks for us to encourage those three levels all get together at this time and have that discussion. So it's a high-level discussion not just among government officials but among private sector and civil society as well. So that's all I would add.
MS. HOLMAN: Okay. John, would you like to add anything?
MR. ANDERSEN: Sure, just briefly. My name is John Andersen. I'm from the Department of Commerce. I'm one of - we're one of the four co-hosts along with my agencies represented at the table. As was said earlier, one of the things we've helped do is bring U.S. companies and U.S. businesses with our colleagues as part of this forum, because as we all recognize, that's one of the real opportunities to get U.S. companies involved in Sub-Saharan Africa both in trade and also in investment and vice versa, opportunities for Sub-Saharan African countries to meet up with partners in the United States to boost their trade.
We also help - part of our function in AGOA has been helping also to make sure that we get the right elements in a number of the countries. So for example, last year, when I was in Zambia at last year's AGOA forum, I actually sat on a panel or hosted a panel involving Botswanans talking about business ethics, which was, I think, one of the major focuses as we move forward on getting the conditions right in the market.
MS. HOLMAN: Okay. Thank you for that.
Paul, would you like to add anything?
MR. MARIN: Sure. Again, I'm Paul Marin, U.S. Trade and Development Agency's regional director for Sub-Saharan Africa.
Amy, during your opening comments, you talked about this year's theme of AGOA being enhancing the infrastructure for trade, and you indicated that infrastructure is one of the main constraints to growth and to trade and to economic development on the continent. You also talked about mobilizing some of the U.S. Government resources to help overcome some of the infrastructure hurdles that Sub-Saharan Africa faces.
The U.S. Trade and Development Agency is one of the agencies that State, Commerce, and USTR have successfully mobilized into the AGOA process. And our aim as an agency is to help Sub-Saharan Africa build its infrastructure for trade. We also try to match U.S. technological expertise with the needs that our partners on the ground in Sub-Saharan Africa have. Also another one of our objectives as an agency is to create lasting partnerships between the U.S. private sector and Sub-Saharan Africa. So we're pleased to be a part of the AGOA ministerial this week, and we're also pleased to participate in next week's U.S.-Africa Business Conference in Cincinnati.
MS. HOLMAN: Thank you, Paul. And we've very, very pleased to have you participating so actively in both the forum and the U.S.-Africa Business Conference.
MODERATOR: Okay. Now that opening remarks are concluded, I'm going to turn things over to Carrie Denver in Johannesburg, who will begin the Q&A.
MS. DENVER: Thank you, Andy. And thanks to our speakers. At this time, we will take questions from our callers with the Africa media hub. To ask a question, please press *1 to join the question queue, and just a reminder to please state your name and affiliation before you ask your question. And if I can also ask journalists to move close to the speakerphone or microphone when you're asking your question.
QUESTION: My name is Ameto Akpe. I'm a journalist with Business Day newspaper in Nigeria. We know that Nigeria has not really (inaudible) taking advantage of AGOA and the (inaudible) AGOA presents. Would you advise on how the private sector specifically in Nigeria could do more to take advantage of AGOA? And in that regard, could you also address certain voices who have sort of criticized the process and they (inaudible) that the U.S. always knew that - from Nigeria specifically wouldn't be able to take optimal advantage of AGOA (inaudible). Thank you.
MS. HOLMAN: You want to take that?
MR. COLEMAN: Yeah, thanks. Sure. AGOA has had mixed results. I mean, we don't dispute that. Some countries have had tremendous success with AGOA, and some less so - a country like South Africa that have an economy that's diverse, that have tremendous base to draw from can really take advantage of AGOA, and at - from the start were able to. We've seen exponential growth in trade amongst those countries. Overall, we've seen the doubling of our trade on both sides - our total trade - and we're proud of that. In just 12 years, to see a doubling of trade anywhere, I think - something to be proud of in terms of that.
In terms of Nigeria specifically, I think it takes a strategy. None of the countries that are successful under AGOA have done it just by accident. It's always been as a result of an AGOA strategy or export promotion strategy, some type of intergovernmental strategy where the private sector and the government get together. They talk about the issues that they have. And on the African side, a lot of the issues are supply side issues, issues that - about infrastructure, like we're going to be talking about at the AGOA forum, infrastructure and telecommunications problems, transportation problems.
There are a lot of supply side concerns that we have to address. And in a lot of countries, they haven't been able to address those yet; and until those are fixed, it's going to be a problem with competiveness. It's global world, it's a global economy, and you have to compete. And if products can come in from, say, Mexico or from El Salvador cheaper than they can from Nigeria, we're going to buy those products. So we have to deal with these issues of competitiveness as well.
QUESTION: [David Adadevoh, Ghanaian Times, Ghana]. In 2011, trade between the U.S. and Sub-Saharan Africa among the (inaudible). What is your projection for this year? Are we going to see an increment in trade between Sub-Saharan Africa and the U.S.?
MR. COLEMAN: Quite frankly, if you look at the figures right now that we see - and we have figures through the first quarter figures that are out there - those are up. So one can only be optimistic that that trend will continue. But a lot of it is a factor of the global economy, and right now I wouldn't take bets on the global economy. We'll see where that goes. So we don't make predictions like that. It all depends on the global situation, the global economic outlook.
QUESTION: [Shamaoma Musonda, Times of Zambia, Zambia]. Thank you very much. My name is (inaudible) from (inaudible) Zambia. What I'd like to find out is from the last approach in building Lusaka, the biggest complaint from (inaudible) whether there's so much trade - so much trade is (inaudible). What has been done to (inaudible) the situation, improve the trade to - for countries like (inaudible)? Thank you.
MR. COLEMAN: Can I have it?
MS. HOLMAN: Yeah.
MR. COLEMAN: I think we've done a lot, actually, and not enough. As I said, there are a lot of supply side concerns that we have and issues on the African side, and that's been a lot of the reasons for seeing a lack of diversity of trade. We have our trade hubs, our African trade competitiveness hubs. We've (inaudible) them on the continent of Africa that we've set up that U.S. Agency for International Development sponsor - one in Nairobi, Kenya; one in Gaborone, Botswana; one in Accra, Ghana. They've been working for many years now with a number of institutions and business groups and businesses to try and induce trade, and they've done a great job. And we've seen all of that non-oil trade and the growth in non-oil trade that we've seen is a result of the work of our hubs. And we're continuing our trade capacity building efforts. And Paul Marin and others here at the table are a real important factor in working with our partners on the ground for trade capacity building.
So yes, a lot of the trade is oil, but that would have been the case regardless. I mean, back to what - it was 10 years ago, the majority of trade with the United States was oil. That's not going to change overnight. But the growth that we've seen in things like specialty foods and apparel, footwear, I mean, a wide range of goods that would have not have happened without AGOA, we think we should be proud of.
QUESTION: [Claire Bisseker, Financial Mail, South Africa]. Thank you. To what extent is the U.S. likely to extend the deadline on the third-country fabric provision beyond September? And what is the probability of this provision being extended to South Africa?
MR. COLEMAN: The magic question. I wouldn't take any bets. I mean, AGOA is a preference program. It's a unilateral preference program. Our Congress sets that up. It's part of our law, U.S. law. We have been working quite extensively with Congress at the highest level. I know that my boss, Ambassador Ron Kirk, and Amy's boss, Secretary Clinton, have been working personally on this issue. We're hopeful that it will get done and we will continue to engage, but there is uncertainty there. And short of having a free trade agreement between our countries where that stuff is codified, we have to go through this process. It's part of the American process and separation of our powers.
So we're going to work on getting third-country fabrics done. We understand that already companies, factories are being affected, and that's unfortunate, but we will do our best to try and see - to get this done.
QUESTION: Yes, I am Caswell Tlali [of the Lesotho Times newspaper,] calling from Lesotho. My question is a follow-up from the one that (inaudible) asked from Cape Town. There is (inaudible) the (inaudible) permit will end on September 30th. There will be difficulties made by local companies (inaudible). They will be forced to (inaudible) materials from - only from Africa and from the (inaudible), which allegedly will be (inaudible). So there is (inaudible).
And also to (inaudible), can you advise countries like Lesotho to do to diversify their products so that we can benefit more in this AGOA (inaudible)?
MS. HOLMAN: I'd be pleased to take that question. In order to assuage your concerns, I'd like to reiterate what my colleague, Patrick, just said. The Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is involved in this effort. The United States Trade Representative Mr. Ron Kirk is also involved in trying to get the third-country fabric provision extended before - and hopefully as far before - the September 30th deadline as humanly possible.
As Patrick mentioned, we have a separation of powers, and this is a congressional - Congress has to take action. As you might know, there is bipartisan support for this measure, and we're just working to find an appropriate legislative vehicle to attach this little piece of legislation to.
I can tell you that industry has been very active in working with our Congress and sensitizing them to your concerns about the uncertainty that not extending this provision brings; sensitizing them to the fact that if it's not extended, there will be tens of thousands of jobs lost on the continent. And we're keenly aware that Lesotho is one of these. We're keenly aware that this benefit under AGOA brings a huge cost benefit to African exporters, and without it, it's far more difficult for the apparel and fabric exporters to be competitive. We're aware of the supply chain issues involved in all of this, and I would just like to assure you that we're working as hard as we can to see that this provision is extended by Congress as quickly as possible.
In terms of the second part of your question, I would encourage your firms to work with the trade hubs to see how you - what other products in your economy might be able to benefit and to benefit most easily and most profitably from AGOA. As you know, there are thousands of products that are available under the AGOA list to enter the United States duty free, so I would encourage your firms to take a look at this. And as Patrick mentioned, the countries that have been most successful in exporting under AGOA to the United States have - the government has formed a strategy, and in many cases a committee, to actually have your trade experts look into these issues and then to reach out to the trade hubs to figure out how we can help you most effectively.
Do you have anything to add, John?
MR. ANDERSEN: No. I think you've pretty much captured it. I'm a bit of a neophyte on AGOA since I worked most of my career in the Western Hemisphere. But I did go to last year's, and I thought one of the things - and people commented upon it from ministers from the African countries - that this was one of the first times that they themselves were starting to ask: How can they best take advantage of AGOA? I think in some of the previous forums, there was more of a what do we get, what can we get out of it in terms of what is the preference program? Whereas, this point, I think they were taking a look at how can we take advantage, how can we diversify, how can we take care of our infrastructure needs. There was a focus particularly on food products and some of the problems that they were experiencing getting a product to market. And I sat in on some of the panels and was - I think a number of people were astounded on how much wastage there is just because there's not the capacity to get the product to market, to store it, and things of that nature.
And that was, to me, kind of a real highlight - was that the governments themselves and the private sectors were starting to realize there were major advantages that they, by just getting some of their own conditions and market conditions right, could take much better advantage of.
MS. HOLMAN: Well, and I think that feeds back into the theme of our conference, of our forum this year, of focusing on how we can better improve infrastructure for trade, because as we've all highlighted around the table here in Washington this morning, that infrastructure is a real constraint to growth for many if not all of the economies on the African continent.
MR. COLEMAN: Particularly in a lot of countries like Lesotho where the caller is from. And actually, that question gives me kind of some pleasure in that Lesotho is one of the countries that when AGOA started didn't have much of a manufacturing economy at all, didn't have a manufacturing base. And the trade minister at the time made a strategy, a real concentrated strategy on what can I do, how can we use this new law that's coming out to strengthen our economy. And 50,000 jobs later, there's an apparel sector that was developed in Lesotho, and now you're asking the next question: What next? What next? And to me that's a really good question.
MR. MARIN: And from our perspective at the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, we have a particular sectoral focus which roughly mirrors the sectors of focus for the U.S.-Africa Business Conference taking place next week in Cincinnati. When we look at some of the key constraints to infrastructure and some of the key constraints to trade for a lot of the businesses on the continent, we're looking at key constraints in areas such as information and communications technology or telecommunications, also clean energy. And when we talk about clean energy, it's not just a factor of how do we generate more electricity, but also how do we improve the quality of the transmission and distribution networks so that there's a reliable stream of electricity to the businesses that need it in order to manufacture and export.
Another key area for us is transportation, and in particular the rail sector and the aviation sector. TDA recently sponsored a regional rail event in Johannesburg with eight countries from southern Africa represented, including Lesotho. Together, we listened to some of the key infrastructure constraints that you are trying to address, and we try to work with our private sector as well as with our U.S. Government partners to determine the source of technical solutions and financial solutions to help improve the rail infrastructure and rail network on the continent.
So that's one area, I think, where the U.S. Government can bring a lot of its resources to bear working with the agencies represented here at the table as well as a lot of the agencies of the U.S. Government that will be participating at the AGOA ministerial this week and next week at the Africa Business Conference. I think together, we want to listen to what some of your key constraints are, and we want to see how we can use the full resources of the U.S. Government to address those concerns.
QUESTION: My name is Nathan Majawa [of Power 101 FM, Malawi,] calling from Malawi. My question is for intraregional trade business in Africa. We have seen that there's a number of challenges that affect intraregional trade in Africa, for example, tariffs in the (inaudible). How are you going to - what advice can you give to Africa to improve (inaudible) intraregional trade?
MS. HOLMAN: Do you want to take that one?
MR. COLEMAN: Sure. Interesting question, because you mentioned tariffs. And one of the areas where I think the African countries have done a good job in terms of intraregional trade is on - in lowering those tariffs. To me, in my eyes, in my mind when I look at trade on the ground in Africa, particularly regional trade amongst regional organizations like the East African Community or the West African Economic and Monetary Union, or SACU, South African Customs Union, I don't see tariffs as a problem, because tariffs have come down, at least on paper.
And the problem is non-tariff barriers, moving goods from one area to another, roadblocks, red tape, other obstacles in moving things to port, delays at port. Things like that are more the problem of inter-African trade than the tariffs. So that's something that - we're actually trying to find our way. We're not sure how we can help African countries to regionalize, but we're partnering with our African countries and we're talking about that.
We think infrastructure is a very important part of that equation. Without the right infrastructure, you can't have that regional trade links and regional trade sharing of goods. So that's a very important part, and that's what we'll be talking about at the forum. So we're looking forward to that discussion.
MS. HOLMAN: Also it's - frankly, as those of us who have watched the European Union integrate more fully, and those of us who have worked on NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, I mean, it's a question of political will. It's a question of are countries really willing to take the risks of getting rid of non-tariff barriers, of leaving their industries open to regional competition in order to get - in order to get the gains that greater intraregional trade will bring?
And the people at the end of the day who are going to get these gains are going to be the consumers. And if you want to grow your middle class, the consumers really need to benefit. And I think that's what you need to keep in mind as you work with your governments to bring about greater regional trade and to eliminate these non-tariff barriers and to eliminate these regulatory roadblocks that Patrick has identified.
John, with your experience in the Western Hemisphere, which has gotten a little bit further along this path than the African continent has, maybe you'd like to offer a few words.
MR. ANDERSEN: Yeah. It's a similar issue that one of my experience in terms of the Central America-US. Free Trade Agreement, the Central American countries had had a customs union amongst themselves for years that simply wasn't operating very efficiently. And as we negotiated with them, one of the things we encouraged them to do was take a hard look at their own circumstance and improving the trade amongst themselves, which is something they frankly took to heart.
As a number of the foreign ministers meeting with my then Secretary of Commerce said, they saw the free trade agreement with the United States as just another tool in their toolbox, not a panacea; that it was really incumbent upon them to lower barriers amongst themselves and to get their own fundamentals right if they were really going to be able to take advantage of everything that was being offered.
And so while I realize we're not talking about a free trade, we're talking about a preference program here, that's still a real critical factor for the governments to take a look at. And if you look at the U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement, not only has it been a success in the sense that it boosted two-way trade between the United States and the five countries of Central America and the Dominican Republic, but what it really did was it - as they concentrated on their own internal market and their intraregional trade, it boosted their intraregional trade significantly. So it really behooves countries that take a hard look at those opportunities.
MS. HOLMAN: Well, and to take a good look at your regional economic communities and see how both government, business, and civil society can work to make those organizations more effective and to strengthen their institutions.
MS. DENVER: Thank you. Our next question comes from our Embassy in Yaounde, Cameroon.
QUESTION: Thanks very much. My name's (inaudible). We all agree that infrastructure is (inaudible) in the growth of a country, especially (inaudible). It has been hard to (inaudible), and AGOA (inaudible) busy. There have been (inaudible) of the African countries.
MR. COLEMAN: Did you get that?
MS. HOLMAN: Not exactly.
PARTICIPANT: Would you repeat your question, please?
QUESTION: All right. I'll repeat. We all agree that infrastructure (inaudible) in the way of growth of a country, especially the area of trade, whether it's intercontinental trade or trade within Africa, between Africa and the rest of the world. How can you help in the situation? Because we see still very little investment in the (inaudible) in many African countries.
MR. MARIN: This is Paul Marin from the U.S. Trade and Development Agency. I'll try to address your question from my own agency's perspective. And it's a very difficult question. We could probably spend a few hours just addressing that, but obviously, we don't have the time.
But I think in a lot of sectors, whether the energy sector or transportation sector, one means by which Sub-Saharan Africa can attract greater investment in its infrastructure is to offer investors a predictable legal and regulatory environment. Another means to attract private investment, particularly from the United States and from our companies, is to look at cost-reflective tariffs.
I think in a lot of markets, the energy tariff and other tariffs are too low to encourage private sector investment. And there are resources available to facilitate the development of legal and regulatory regimes that will attract foreign direct investment into your markets.
The TDA has been working with our Embassy in Nigeria and with the Commerce Department and others, and with State and USTR, on several different initiatives. For example, we're working with Nigeria's Electricity Regulatory Commission to develop a renewable energy framework to attract private investment in the renewable energy sector in that market. We have done similar work in Namibia, in Tanzania, and other markets as well.
So part of the responsibility and part of the way to attract investment is to ensure that your market offers incentives to private investors and specifically cost-reflective tariffs. And agencies such like - such as TDA are engaged with many countries' public sectors and private sectors throughout Sub-Saharan Africa to help you plan the development of your infrastructure. We primarily implement our programs through project planning assistance, meaning feasibility studies, technical assistance, and pilot projects that help you plan the development of your infrastructure.
We also engage in different business partnership programs where we bring decision makers and officials from Sub-Saharan Africa to the United States on study tours to meet with potential partners in the development of your infrastructure as well as to meet with representatives of financial institutions such as the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the U.S. Export-Import Bank, and naturally the multilateral development banks such as the World Bank, so that way decision makers from Sub-Saharan Africa can learn from the financiers themselves what requirements they have before they'll provide investment into your infrastructure.
I hope I've been able to address some of your questions there.
MR. ANDERSEN: And if I could just add - this is John Andersen from Commerce - if I could just add something to what Paul said, because I just came back from the Republic of Georgia and this was one of the issues that they were looking at too, was how to better attract investment into the republic. And what we - essentially, we concluded is business people are looking for transparency, predictability, and a strong rule of law, that if they do run into issues, because issues do arise, that there is a process that fairly settles disputes and that they're aware of what it is and it's out in the open. So those are things people are going to be looking for too. So to the extent those are there, your ability to attract investors is going to go up.
QUESTION: My name is Ezra Ijioma of Leadership newspaper in Nigeria. Can you - I want to talk to Mr. William Fitzgerald. U.S. (inaudible) a dysfunction with the level of (inaudible) of AGOA on Africans? And also, not so much about infrastructure - are you satisfied also with the publicity of AGOA among African (inaudible), and also among the farmers and those who can also benefit from AGOA?
PARTICIPANT: Are you satisfied with the publicity of AGOA?
QUESTION: Yes, publicity, yes.
MS. HOLMAN: I'm here representing Mr. Fitzgerald. He was not able to attend today. I am Amy Holman from the Africa Bureau at the Department of State.
Publicity of AGOA -while we have our forum every year, we do these kinds of press calls, but it's really very difficult for us in the U.S. Government to publicize AGOA in each of the 40 beneficiary countries. Our embassies do a really good job of this, but the private sector in each of these countries needs to work to publicize AGOA. The governments in each of the individual countries need to work to publicize AGOA, and need to develop - as Patrick has mentioned and as I have mentioned - need to develop a strategy in order to do this.
As we've mentioned previously on this call, the countries that have had the most success under AGOA are the countries that have worked hard to develop a strategy and a plan and actually executed this plan and strategy to promote AGOA.
QUESTION: Hello, my name is Leevy Frivet from [Capital in] Mauritius, and my question would be: Do merchants have a fear that the third-country fabric will not be with you there, after September?
MR. COLEMAN: I can understand how important third-country fabric is, particularly to Mauritius, with your economy still vested very much in the apparel sector. And we are all worried about the future of third-country fabric, but all we can do is work hard.
We've been here before in AGOA. I mean, AGOA - we've enhanced it, we've expanded it. We've expanded it over the 12 years. It's been a living document in terms of the last 12 years. And we've been here before where we had to hold our breath and wait and see what the next step would be. So here we are holding our breath again and we'll do our best to make sure that we can get this done as soon as possible. Again, we recognize how critical this provision is to countries like Mauritius that have a huge portion of their economy relying on a third-country fabric provision.
MS. HOLMAN: And I'd just like to add - this is Amy Holman - that we've worked hard, and particularly your - the Mauritian ambassador to the U.S. has worked very, very hard to sensitize both the members of our Congress and also us here in the various agencies of the government that - how important this third-country fabric provision is not just to Mauritius, but we also had Lesotho and others on the line this morning who have really taken advantage of this provision of AGOA.
So we're - as Patrick says, we're holding our breath, but as I mentioned earlier, there is really, as we understand it, no opposition in Congress. It's just a mechanics issue of getting this done.
QUESTION: My name is Dominic Andoh with Business & Financial Times in Ghana. My question is: Can you provide us some specific reasoning for choosing this year's (inaudible) for development, for (inaudible)?
MR. HOLMAN: This is Amy Holman again. I'll be happy to take that question. As I mentioned at the beginning of the call, what we've done is we've looked at what are the constraints to the growth and trade. And we've looked at the geography of Africa, we've looked at work we've done in other fora. As you may be aware, Ghana is one of the Partnership for Growth countries, and we identify the infrastructure, particularly energy and water, water and sanitation, among other areas, are real significant constraints to growth.
We also consulted our stakeholders. We've consulted your embassies here in Washington. We went in and had our embassies go in and chat about this with their colleagues. And we've - this - we've done many, many of these fora at this point in time. And what we try and do each year is to pick a new area, to explore that, and explore how we can focus on this area and make AGOA more effective.
And so we've decided that looking at all of these factors, from the stakeholders to the analyses that we've done here in the U.S. Government, that the World Bank, that the African Union, and NEPAD have done, we decided that infrastructure would be a very worthy topic and one that also lends itself well to the follow-up U.S.-Africa Business Conference in terms of the theme and how to mobilize U.S. Government resources, how to leverage private sector capital, and how to look at the specialized expertise that U.S. companies have in many of these areas.
QUESTION: My name is Thapelo Mabote. I write for Business Edge newspaper from (inaudible) Lesotho. My question is what impact have (inaudible) have on U.S. Congress getting acclimated (inaudible)? And this would be the (inaudible) of the Congress with all countries in (inaudible). Thank you.
PARTICIPANT: What kind of impact can you have on Congress, U.S. Congress?
MR. COLEMAN: In Lesotho?
PARTICIPANT: Can they - can Lesotho have.
MR. COLEMAN: I think the impact is being had. Your ambassador here has gone into Congress with - Amy had mentioned the ambassador from Mauritius. The foreign - the African Diplomatic Corps here in Washington has had a voice. They've gone in and talked with members of Congress about the critical nature of the legislation and the (inaudible) provisions in particular. Not only that; your ministers have come through and talked with our legislators as well as members of cabinet to discuss this provision. We hear your voice in Lesotho here in Washington. You're well represented.
QUESTION: Hi. My name is Daniel [Mawawa]. I work for Zodiak Radio Station in Malawi. And my question is: When looking at the (inaudible) in AGOA, you are explaining them to be around 95 billion U.S. dollars. Now - but our question, in the context of Malawi, given the enormous challenges that the country has been going through, first of all, would you say that Malawi has seized the opportunities to (inaudible) the press benefits that are there? And obviously, there should be (inaudible). You've seen Malawi can improve all, can work all to transform our economy. Do you think they are going south? What are these areas? Thank you.
MR. COLEMAN: Malawi actually has had an uneven record with AGOA. You had some manufacturing at the start - implementation in 2000. Initially, we saw quite a few textile and apparel imports coming in from Malawi. But in 2004, when the global apparel sector was going through changes because of the expiration of the multi fiber agreements, we saw that go down and we saw them having a very difficult time, and remaining competitive globally once the apparel sector globally was liberalized. And we never saw Malawi quite come back from that.
And in terms of diversification outside of the apparel sector, there's not a whole lot there yet, and our partners in the U.S. Government that work on development and work with - encourage (inaudible) capacity building, we're trying to again identify that. Our Southern African Trade Hub has been working with Malawian firms and the food - especially food sector, for example - we have Malawi - and especially foods that are now being sold in the United States, everything from pepper sauces to Malawian honey, we now find here.
So the key is to identify new products and to see what we can use there to export under AGOA.
MS. DENVER: Great, thank you. We have one more question from our Embassy in Ghana, and then we'll take the final question from (inaudible) correspondent in Johannesburg.
QUESTION: Hello, thank you very much. My name is Seth Bokpe [of the Daily Graphic]. (Inaudible) documented between (inaudible) in Ghana, and this is Ghana not taking advantage of the AGOA because of the (inaudible). For that, Ghana exports many consumables, but the U.S. does not import consumable products. I don't know if that is true, but if that is true, what can the U.S. do or what can Ghana do to change that legal status? I know at the heart of the AGOA program is (inaudible). So is there a significant violation of trade that (inaudible) can identify? What can the U.S. do to move these (inaudible)? Thank you.
MS. HOLMAN: I'm not sure what you mean by consumables. Do you mean fresh fruits and vegetables?
QUESTION: Yeah, exactly. What from - the customs we had with officials, they were saying that there are some products that the U.S. Government and (inaudible) into their market, and they are talking about consumables and they are talking about non-traditional export. Is this true? And if this is true, to me, (inaudible) is inferior to (inaudible). And that is what I'm (inaudible) to move. I want to seek some clarification here. Thank you.
MS. HOLMAN: Yeah. Well, what we've encouraged countries to do is to work on products that have a value chain, where the products are not like fresh fruits and vegetables, that they're processed - if that's what you're talking about. And we've tried to work with countries to encourage them to manufacture for export items that are on the AGOA list, and items that, as I mentioned before, have a multi-step preparation process - whether it's canned vegetables where you need to harvest the vegetables, employing your farmers, processing them which employs additional people, and making some sort of container for them to be shipped in, which employs yet another set of people.
Those are the products that can take most advantage of AGOA, because at the end of the day, what we would really like to do is grow the African economies and grow employment in the formal sector in these African economies. And so those are the sorts of products that we found tend to be very successful. And then the challenge is to find your niche and to identify what does Ghana produce that's on the list, that there - what there - that there's a market for in the United States.
So you need to look at these three factors. You have the USAID Agency for International Development trade hub right in your neighborhood in Accra. We have a variety of other U.S. programs that have components that - for - specifically for Ghana. I'm thinking of - there's a small program that's part of the Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact that's focused in on this area.
So you need to look at what's available, what are the tools available, and it's putting together a matrix and seeing where all the blocks intersect.
MR. COLEMAN: If I might just add, just to say categorically first that the United States does not prohibit so-called consumables. In fact, we encourage that. We want to see these value-added products coming to our economy.
The problem, in addition to looking at that matrix, is the competitiveness of those products. A lot of times, we find that very good products from Ghana unfortunately can't compete in our market because of the distance, because of supply side constraints, infrastructure issues that we've talked about quite a bit here. Those are very important, which is why we're going to be talking about them this week. So we see that those are very important, because that product's more expensive than others like products - that's the prohibition, not anything that we can mandate at the government level.
MS. DENVER: Thank you. There is one question. The next question is from BBC in Johannesburg, South Africa.
QUESTION: My name is Gringo Wotshela from BBC News in Johannesburg. I want to know how worried is the U.S. about the situation in northern (inaudible), talking about the (inaudible) of (inaudible) Islamic states there. What does it mean for the U.S. and the rest of the world in terms of trade, in terms of security, and (inaudible)? Thank you very much.
MS. HOLMAN: This is - we have come here today not really to focus on the political situation in any individual country. And what we're here really is to focus - is to just focus on the straight trade issues today. So if you'd like to send in that question as a written question, we would be happy to get back to you.
MS. DENVER: We have one final question from our Embassy in Addis Ababa. Your line is open.
QUESTION: My name is (inaudible).
MS. DENVER: Sorry, it looks like we lost them. Okay. Well, we'll just take their question another time. And that concludes today's call. I would like to thank our briefers for joining us, and thank all of our callers for participating. If you have any questions, you can contact the Africa Regional Media Hub at AFMEDIAHUB@state.gov. We hope you'll join (inaudible). Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Carrie. As there are no further questions in Washington, this event is now concluded.
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