Following her attendance yesterday at a meeting on Libya in Abu Dhabi, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives in Lusaka, Zambia today for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) ministerial forum (visit AGOA’s website here). After Zambia, Clinton will stop in Tanzania and Ethiopia. This is her first major tour of Africa since August 2009, and like that trip it will test the efficacy of America’s political outreach to Africa in comparison with the approaches of China and other powers.
News coverage has stressed the economic focus of Clinton’s trip. VOA writes, “Enhancing trade, development and regional security will be key priorities for U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on an Africa tour later this week.” This economic focus will extend beyond the AGOA meeting to include the visits to Tanzania and Ethiopia. Here is a sense of the agenda:
The chief US diplomat will meet with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete and Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
“In Tanzania, she will highlight our successful bilateral engagement, including a host of programs, including Feed the Future,” [deputy spokesman Mark] Toner said.
In Ethiopia, Clinton will “focus on regional issues,” visiting the African Union headquarters and meeting with AU Chairman Jean Ping in addition to holding bilateral meetings with Ethiopian officials.
She will also meet with representatives of civil society — which usually includes human rights and other society activists — to “draw attention to their innovative and enterprising work,” Toner said.
The AGOA meeting is the main event of the trip, and from the stature of its representatives there – US Trade Representative Ron Kirk spoke during the opening proceedings yesterday – it is clear that Washington takes the conference seriously. US analysts and African attendees have highlighted problems with AGOA, problems that seem even darker with China’s shadow cast over the meeting. The Wall Street Journal, in an article I recommend you read in full, puts the issue this way:
The U.S. remains the top donor to Africa, disbursing $7.6 billion in 2009, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
China isn’t a member of the OECD, and doesn’t provide detailed breakdowns of aid and investment to Africa. But in 2009, China became Africa’s largest trade partner. In the first 11 months of last year, China’s trade with Africa amounted to $114.81 billion, according to the Chinese government’s White Paper on the topic. U.S. trade with Africa for the period reached $103 billion, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
China has tied much of its trade and investment to Africa with preferential loan deals, often aimed at securing supplies of oil, gas and minerals. Top-ranking Chinese officials regularly visit African countries to cement these agreements.
“The goal of China is mercantilist; they do what they need to do to get access to natural resources,” says Paul Ryberg, the Washington-based president for the African Coalition for Trade, which represents African companies in the U.S. The centerpiece of U.S. economic engagement, Agoa, says Mr. Ryberg “is economic development, creation of jobs and the creation of a middle class to buy our products.”
AFP also touches on the subject:
AGOA’s rules are broad enough to encompass most of the continent, but leave out countries hit by coups or major political conflicts, including Ivory Coast, Somalia, Sudan and Zimbabwe.
The United States sees the offer of tariff-free access to the world’s largest economy as a carrot to encourage good governance in Africa.
But like other western countries, the United States now finds itself competing with China, which imposes no such pre-conditions.
African trade with China jumped more than 40 percent last year, compared with an 18 percent increase for the United States.
Last year AGOA exports to the United States reached $44 billion, but 91 percent of that were petroleum products, mainly from Nigeria and Angola, according to the State Department.
Washington, it seems, understands the weaknesses of AGOA. But will US diplomats and policymakers be able to increase non-petroleum trade and more effectively compete with China? Sending two high-level officials to AGOA demonstrates strong engagement, but will there be follow-through? These issues bear watching even after Clinton’s trip is over.