US-Africa summit: Biden likely to make major policy announcement to reset ties, officials

US-Africa summit: Biden likely to make major policy announcement to reset ties, officials
US President Joe Biden. Courtesy Photo

In SUMMARY:

  • US is expected to use the upcoming summit as a platform to explore mutually beneficial trade and investment partnerships that are going to deepen its ties with African nations.
  • The US-Africa Leaders Summit was last held in 2014 under President Obama’s administration, while the business forum last took place in 2016.

United States officials have said Joe Biden’s incoming gathering with African heads of State and business leaders –  US-Africa Leaders Summit – in Washington on 13-15 December could culminate in major policy announcement as the country seeks to reset ties with the continent. 

Following years of Donald Trump administration’s apparent indifference in engagement with Africa, the US appear to be keen on investing in mutually beneficial economic partnerships with African nations, and officials have hailed the upcoming summit as platform to explore trade and investment opportunities in that regard.

In particular, Washington will host the US-Africa business forum as part of the upcoming summit with eyes on business deals across sectors of key interest to the American private sector namely food security and agribusiness, infrastructure and energy and digital economy.

Department of Commerce deputy assistant secretary for the Middle East and Africa, Camille Richardson confirmed that 42 heads of State and nearly 300 companies have confirmed attendance to the forum slated for November 14.

The forum will include “Deal Rooms” for negotiation, signing and announcement of deal commitments by U.S. companies interested in investing in and partnering with Africa.

“You can certainly expect a major policy announcement from the President at the end of the summit,” Ms Richardson told journalists during a virtual press briefing held Thursday.

 “As you noticed, the foreign policy of the United States has changed so that it is more about partnering with Africa. It’s not about just trade and aid.  It’s really about building a partnership and having a starting point for those conversations about how do we work together to meet the goals of Africa’s industrialization agenda in 2063," Richardson said, adding that the business forum “will allow us to explore how we can advance together to really move the needle in a transformative way on these sectors of focus.”

The U.S.-Africa Summit was last held in 2014 under President Obama’s administration, while the business forum last took place in 2016.

Observers describe the subsequent Donald Trump administration’s engagement with Africa as disastrous, something that worked in favor of global powers such as China, Japan, India, Russia, Turkey and Europe.

The countries' heads held separate bilateral summits with their African counterparts, which culminated in investments, trade and co-operation deals, on top offering goodies to the continent seen as both consumer market for products and a source of rare earth minerals and  natural resource reserves.

Also read: US diplomats end Africa trip with accent on peace, rights, trade with Russia

Besides, series of crises that since struck namely the covid-19 pandemic, supply chain disruptions and geopolitical tensions that erupted amid the Russia-Ukraine conflict kept American business community away from the continent.

In fact, official statistics point to a decline in two-way trade between the US and Africa by more than a half since 2008, from $141.9 billion to $64.3 billion last year, at a time imports and exports between China and Africa stood at $254bn last year.

Arun Venkataraman, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Global Markets and Director General of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service says the US wants to be part of the Africa growth story as the continent presses ahead with implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and achieving the goal of a single unified market.

African leaders root for AfCFTA full operationalisation

The African Union (AU) has indicated that other activities of the US-Africa leaders summit include the African Growth and Opportunity Act  (AGOA) ministerial meeting to be hosted by U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai with Sub-Saharan African trade ministers and senior officials.

Also planned is African and Diaspora Young Leaders Forum to strengthen the dialogue with U.S. officials.

~ Reporting by Johnson Kanamugire