Barack Obama has called for an increase in intra-African trade alongside a renewed economic engagement with the United States, arguing that countries on the continent can do much more to build links with neighbouring states.
“The biggest markets for your goods are often right next door. You don’t have to just look overseas for growth, you can look internally…it shouldn’t be harder for African countries to trade with each other than it is for you to trade with Europe and America,” he said.
Obama was delivering a keynote speech to the African Union in Addis Ababa, the first sitting US president to address the body since its foundation in 2001. The speech capped off a five-day trip to Kenya and Ethiopia.
According to UN figures, the share of intra-African trade in Africa’s total trade over the past decade was only about 11%, compared to 70% for Europe. In response, Obama said that the US would step up efforts to encourage regional integration, building on previous US assistance in modernising customs and border crossings in the East African Community.
The president also highlighted US efforts in battling corruption, tackling illicit capital flows and building power capacity on the continent.
Obama praised African countries that have torn down barriers to investment, but argued that much more needs to be done to spark business growth on the continent.
“In many places in Africa, it’s still too hard to start a venture, still too hard to build a business,” he said.
Obama said that the United States stands ready to assist African nations who intend to “make doing business easier” and called for an increase in US trade efforts on the continent.
“I want Africans and Americans doing more business together in more sectors, in more countries. So we’re increasing trade missions in places like Tanzania, Ethiopia, Mozambique,” he said.
Obama last month signed a renewal of the American Growth and Opportunity Act, a Clinton-era trade deals that allows African countries tariff-free access to the US market and has been credited with boosting industries across the continent. The renewal of the deal has followed a plunge in the value of US-Africa trade. According to figures from the Department of Commerce, US imports from Sub-Saharan Africa decreased by 32% to $26.7bn in 2014.
As well as promising to boost trade, Obama took a thinly veiled swipe at the terms of China’s engagement with the continent.
“I want to encourage everbody to do business with Africa, and African countries should want to do business with every country. But economic relationships can’t simply be about building countries’ infrastructure with foreign labour or extracting Africa’s natural resources,” he said.