MINNEAPOLIS – Holly Vineyard’s message to her attentive audience at the Pan-African Trade and Investment Summit, held at the University of Minnesota’s Hubert Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, was clear: Do not wait for “a perfect market.”
The U.S Department of Commerce’s Deputy Assistant for Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, said two-way trade between the United States and African businesses is growing exponentially and will continue to do so.
Citing the World Bank’s Doing Business report, in which Africa was among the top three reforming regions and Ghana and Tanzania featuring among the top ten global reformers, she urged the audience to take advantage of growing opportunities while they are easily available. It is for this reason the U.S. government was increasing the trade with Africa, she said.
Between 2002 and 2006, the United States’ trade with African countries grew by 80 percent to approximately $90 billion.
“The Millennium Challenge Corporation has awarded three of its largest contracts to Africa and we are working with the African Development Bank to make sure that many of the opportunities go to the U.S. and not only the French,” she said, drawing laughter from the crowd.
Addressing the notion that Africa is a risky place to do businesses, Vineyard said, “If you wait for the perfect market you are going to face perfect competition.”
Nonetheless, the agencies of both the U.S. and African governments were taking great strides to reduce the risks for investors. International Property Rights (IPRs) are one such risk, Vineyard said.
“No one wants to go into a country only to have their investments ripped off,” she said.
She explained that pirating of a wide range of commodities such as movies from Hollywood is a big problem on the continent, but also noted that now pirated African goods are coming from Asia. Currently USAID and AGOA are working on a program to protect IPRs, but Vineyard advised investors to look at where countries stand in terms of IPRs before investing.
As far as sectors to invest go, Vineyard said that franchising was a good start for those with limited resources.
“The franchising potential in Africa hasn’t been tapped. And when I mention franchising, please don’t only think of food!” she chided.
Referring to the announcement by Google to go into Kenya to build their own broadband, Vineyard noted that telecommunications present great investments opportunities too. For Minnesotans, she recommended medical equipment.
“The largest medical equipment companies in the world are in Minnesota. We need only think of the wealth of nations, but also the health of nations,” she said.
Vineyard encouraged Africans in at the convention to participate in the trade as importers.
“Sometimes your best bet for selling to the US is through people you know. Figure out who’s active and who’s interested,” she advised.