U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and a slew of American business executives are meeting in Nigeria to encourage trade they say will create jobs on both continents.
The visit to Nigeria, expected to be among the top 10 economies in the world by 2050, and one of Africa’s smallest but most innovative nations, Rwanda, is designed to transform the perception of Africa from an aid-dependent continent to a region brimming with business opportunities, Pritzker told The Associated Press in an interview.
She said Africa has seven of the fastest 10 growing economies in the world; a burgeoning young population and a rising middle class (50 million in Nigeria alone).
“So the message to Americans is now is the time to come and explore the opportunity in Africa,” Pritzker said.
She announced Tuesday that the second US-Africa Business Forum will take place on the margins of the U.N. General Assembly in September because many African leaders will be present. It will gather “hundreds of both American and African business figures who want to get together because they see the potential of doing more business in Africa,” Pritzker said of the event co-hosted by her department and Bloomberg Philanthropies. President Barack Obama announced an expanded Power Africa initiative at the first forum in Washington D.C. in 2014.
The figures for Nigeria tell the story: In 2014, U.S. exports to Nigeria topped $5.9 billion and imports from Nigeria totaled $3.8 billion, compared to U.S. aid of $694 million last year.
The latest U.S push comes as Nigeria is hurting from the downturn in the economy of China, which last year overtook the U.S. to become Nigeria’s biggest trading partner. China accounted for 22.5 percent of Nigeria’s imports in the third quarter of 2015, compared to 9.6 percent from the U.S., according to Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics.
Nigeria’s current economic woes, including lower prices for oil that produces 80 percent of government revenue and a related slump in the naira currency, are positives for investors, said General Electric’s Jay Ireland, who runs the U.S. multinational’s Africa operations.
“This is the time to come in,” he said, adding American companies should be looking at long-term investments that ride out the cycles of oil prices and currency exchanges. “We’re going to be here for a long time and feel very comfortable investing in Nigeria. … [It] provides a tremendous platform for growth.”
GE is investing $200 million in Nigeria to build two facilities to assemble oil and gas and power generation equipment that the company hopes to export to other West African nations. The company employs nearly 500 people in Nigeria.
U.S. businesswoman Rahama Wright’s firm partners with some 1,200 women from two cooperatives in Ghana to produce shea butter beauty products sold in the United States.
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