By Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Michael Bloomberg
"Africa is no longer a sleeping giant but is awake and open for business." These words from a rising South African leader at last week's Young African Leaders Summit could not be more accurate: Africa might well be the biggest market opportunity in the global economy today, and U.S. companies cannot afford to miss out.
For decades, the U.S.-Africa economic relationship has too often taken a back seat to other pressing issues and priorities. Yet right now, our commercial partnership — between governments, among businesses, in markets on both sides of the Atlantic — is as important as ever. Strengthening and deepening that pillar of our alliance will prove a net gain for workers, entrepreneurs, and communities in the United States and across Africa.
The continent's economic potential is enormous. Africa is home to six of the world's 10 fastest-growing economies. Its GDP is expected to rise 6 percent annually over the next decade. Real income has increased more than 30% over the last 10 years, and many African governments are making investments in infrastructure, education, and health care that are improving millions of lives. Yet investment by U.S. companies in Africa remains too low.
This fact has negative consequences for the U.S. and African economies, and it is one of the reasons that Bloomberg Philanthropies and the U.S. Department of Commerce are co-hosting the first-ever U.S.-Africa Business Forum, as part of President Obama's U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. The forum is a chance for President Obama and 45 African heads of state to talk directly with CEOs from both sides of the Atlantic, and for businesses to learn more about potential investment opportunities.
We came together to host the Business Forum out of a sense of real urgency. In the years to come, as Africa accounts for an increasing share of the world market, companies that want to remain competitive globally will need to have an African presence. The growing demand for goods and services in Africa can increase U.S. exports and create more jobs here at home, and more trade and investment in Africa will be critical to America's leadership in the global economy. At the same time, American companies bring unique experience and expertise that can help African countries meet their development goals.
Make no mistake: The U.S.-Africa relationship is a two-way street. America and Africa have a lot to gain through closer economic ties. And to start, we expect today's forum to serve as a catalyst for more than $14 billion in business deals with benefits that travel in both directions across the Atlantic.
We know what is possible when American companies work hand-in-hand with African counterparts: We can help raise living standards and pave the way for future growth. For example, IBM has opened Africa's first major commercial technology research lab in Kenya to pioneer consumer-facing innovations aimed at African markets. Even a smaller enterprise like Charlotte, North Carolina–based SEWW Energy is leading the way to upgrade Accra's electricity grid.
We have only begun to scratch the surface, and we are both acting to strengthen this partnership. The Obama administration's SelectUSA initiative — the first government-wide effort to attract and retain investment in the United States that is housed at the Commerce Department — works every day to encourage investment by African firms in U.S. communities, which will support and create American jobs.
In May, the Commerce Department led a trade mission to Ghana and Nigeria with 20 U.S. energy companies that want to bring electricity to the 600 million Africans who still lack it. Those investments will improve lives and bring revenue to American companies, while helping create conditions for further investment in Africa.
Bloomberg LP has worked with 15 market exchanges in regions across Africa to make local market data more accessible, reliable, and transparent. This is helping African companies raise money to invest, expand, and create jobs — and helping better connect Africa to the global economy.
Africa's economic ascent is still just beginning. The U.S.-Africa Business Forum will serve as a reminder that both Africa and America are awake and open for business. And by investing in our partnership, we will invest in prosperity on either side of the Atlantic.