When we think about industry in Illinois, trade with sub-Saharan African nations probably doesn’t figure prominently in the picture. And that makes sense — despite being a huge continent, U.S. trade with African nations is relatively insignificant. In addition to the minimal trading power of most African nations, there are other extenuating barriers to robust markets. For example, in some places, less than 15 percent of the population has access to the power grid, making it virtually impossible for U.S. companies to build a commercial presence there.
There is an initiative coming down from Washington, however, that may change all that. Last month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that “deepening our cooperation and improving our performance” in sub-Saharan Africa will be a priority in the State Department. That means working to strengthen the markets for American consumer goods in those nations, as well as growing our communication and information technology presence there. U.S. Embassies current employ commercial officers states like Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa. These individuals help U.S. companies navigate African markets, and work to remove barriers to the expansion of American trade.
Assistant Secretary of Commerce Michael Camunez works at the International Trade Association in a department that is also working to facilitate economic growth and the creation of “African lions,” or increasingly economically powerful African states. Globalization is a term that’s been around for quite a while, Camunez acknowledges, but we’re only just entering a period in which U.S. commercial interests will really begin to take advantage of it in sub-Saharan Africa.
To find out more about what types of businesses might consider relocating to African markets, and what kind of challenges are in store for them, WBEZ business reporter Niala Boodhoo spoke to Asst. Sec. Camunez for Worldview.