/ 3 November 2023

US eyes Africa’s industrialisation to grow superpower’s might

Key Speakers At The Selectusa Investment Summit
US deputy secretary of commerce Don Graves said Agoa’s renewal has strong bipartisan support, as lawmakers acknowledge the importance of the continent’s consumer base. Photographer: Ting Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The United States has indicated its willingness to support the continent’s industrialisation, which is viewed as a missing element in the advancement of trade under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa).

Africa’s industrialisation is a priority for the US, as the economic superpower endeavours to grow the continent’s middle class and thus the consumer base for American products, US deputy secretary of commerce Don Graves told a virtual media briefing during the second day of the 20th Agoa forum in Johannesburg. 

In the lead-up to the forum — during which stakeholders will discuss Agoa’s renewal, as well as efforts to enhance it — South Africa’s Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition  Ebrahim Patel said beneficiary countries would like to see the trade programme complemented by investment.

“We’ve had great conversations with our partners all across the continent, recognising that not every country is in the same place in terms of their industrial development and especially their manufacturing capacity,” Graves noted.

He said efforts to expand Africa’s manufacturing capacity included connecting US businesses with those on the continent. 

“So we certainly have talked about the potential of bringing US know-how — really the supplier and partner of choice across the continent — bringing our companies and our know how to bear in building additional capacity, ensuring that we’re building the type of workforce that is able to make processed or finished products so that those then can be sold across the world,” Graves added.

“Why is this important? Because the US believes that we should be investing in these markets and building a stronger middle class across the continent, because then they will be able to buy more American products. So it’s in our best interest to invest in and support the growth and development of these economies and help them in their industrial development, so that they can be better partners.”

Graves said he was excited about the African Continental Free Trade Area, which would allow US companies to invest in one part of Africa and tap into suppliers all across the continent.

While talks are underway at the Agoa forum, the US congress will ultimately decide whether the legislation is renewed — and what form it will take — beyond its September 2025 expiry.

Graves emphasised that Agoa’s renewal had strong bipartisan support in the US. Earlier this week, President Joe Biden endorsed an extension of the trade pact, which he said “has formed a bedrock for US trade with sub-Saharan Africa for more than two decades”.

Graves said: “We believe strongly that … we will get Agoa passed and that it’s critical for the US economy to renew.

“And there is strong bipartisan support on the hill … And they’ll do it because they know that it’s good, not just for Africa, but it’s good for the American economy and for American workers.”