Friday, December 20, 2013

Out of Africa: U.S. Chamber discusses emerging opportunities for U.S. engagement

The Arizona Chamber yesterday morning was fortunate to host Scott Eisner, Vice President of African Affairs and International Operations for the U.S. Chamber at our office for a roundtable discussion on emerging markets and opportunities in Africa.

Scott is an Arizona native – his parents moved here in the 1970s when, as he tells it, many considered Arizona to be the wild, untamed west. This is not unlike the view many of us have of African nations today; often we think of them as underdeveloped nations that need our charity, rather than partners in commerce.

While charity is still critical in many parts of the continent, Scott challenges us to look at Africa as an opportunity for investment and trade, not just aid. As rock star and philanthropist Bono said, "commerce, entrepreneurial capitalism takes more people out of poverty than aid."

And the time for U.S. investment in and trade with Africa has never been better. Currently, seven of the ten fastest growing economies are in Africa, and the number of citizens considered to be middle class has tripled since 1980. Scott specifically identified three important areas of opportunity for U.S. engagement in Africa:

1.       Consumer services
Africa’s current labor force consists of 500 million people and is expected to balloon to 1 billion by 2040. Most of Africa’s consumer goods currently come from China, but there is an enormous appetite for American products, which represents great potential for American companies.

2.       Agriculture and natural resources
Africa is home to 60 percent of the world’s arable land, 10 percent of the world’s known oil supply, 20 percent of the world’s gold supply and 80 to 90 percent of the world’s platinum and chromium. However, they currently lack the infrastructure and investment to capitalize on these remarkable resources.

3.       Infrastructure
Scott highlighted this as the greatest opportunity for American engagement. African countries are lacking infrastructure at every level - from a power grid to IT systems to airports and seaports. Sixty-eight percent of Africans do not even have access to power. The ability to build and maintain this infrastructure represents an enormous opportunity.

Scott has traveled extensively across the continent and lived in Malawi, Africa. His deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities across the fifty-four unique nations of Africa made for fascinating conversation and we are grateful he was able to talk to us yesterday morning.

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