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US – Africa: A brave new beginning?

US – Africa: A brave new beginning?

For the present though, natural resources are at the heart of the US’s interest in Africa and natural resource discoveries on the African continent are on the increase. Oil is important, with just five out of 54 African countries not engaged in either oil exploration or oil production.

Dramatic discoveries of valuable raw materials are also being made – for example, over the last few years there have been significant discoveries of natural gas in Mozambique and Tanzania and a massive coal discovery in Mozambique as well. There have also been high-profile discoveries of oil reserves in Kenya and Uganda.

The US’s total trade with sub-Saharan Africa came to $63.3bn in 2013, 12% short of 2012. Nonetheless, US exports to Africa grew at a rate of 6.9% to $24bn – more than triple the growth rate of its exports going to the rest of the world.

Exports to sub-Saharan Africa overall came to 1.5% of the US’s global exports. South Africa, Nigeria, Angola, Ghana and Togo were the most important destinations of US exports in the region.

Although countries such as South Africa and Nigeria are established consumers of US products, there were some big climbers in the export destination stakes. For example, US exports to Togo grew 158%, largely due to exports of mineral fuel to the Francophone West African country.

Similarly, a spike in exports of US machinery to Morocco stimulated a 225% growth in US exports to the country in 2013.

Progress with African exports to the US has been less impressive, however. Demand for fuel and oil imports in the US has fallen and this has had a dramatic effect on African exports to the country.

A 6% decrease in demand for precious stones and metals, coupled with a dip of 15% in demand for iron and steel imports from the region, has also taken its toll. In 2013, sub-Saharan exports to the US tumbled by over a fifth to $39.3bn.

US imports from the region in that year accounted for just 1.7% of the US’s total imports. The biggest exporters to the US include oil-producing heavyweights Nigeria and Angola, as well as South Africa, Chad and Democratic Republic of Congo.

Nigerian, mainly oil, exports to the US crashed 38%, and exports from Angola dipped 11%. The export of mainly minerals from DR Congo shrank 22%, and exports from Gabon were cut dramatically by 41%; 80% of Gabon’s exports are oil.

In terms of imports to the US under the AGOA agreement, 2013 also proved to be a mixed year. AGOA imports dropped 23% compared with 2012, to $26.8bn.

Again, this was mainly due to lagging demand for petroleum, which represented 82% of all AGOA imports – demand crashed by 27%. Most other products were raw materials and imports of those to the US diminished slightly in 2013 – by 2% compared with the previous year, coming to $4.9bn. Overall agricultural-related imports fell 13%, chemical-related product imports tumbled 12% and imports related to minerals and metals fell 5%.

It was a more positive story in terms of the import of textiles and apparel, however – imports from Africa grew 11%. Similarly the import of transport equipment increased 6%.The biggest exporters through the AGOA agreement were Nigeria, Angola, South Africa, Chad, and DRC.

Other top exporters were Mauritius, Kenya, Gabon and Lesotho.

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Written by Sherelle Jacobs

Sherelle Jacobs is a British freelance journalist covering sub-Saharan African business and development news. In 2013, she won 'Best Newcomer' at the Diageo Africa Business Reporting Awards. She has written for the Economist, BBC, Financial Times, Guardian, Independent, African Business and African Banker. She speak French, Arabic, Russian and German.

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