WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced an agreement aimed at boosting trade ties between the United States and Africa after years in which the continent fell behind other U.S. priorities as China moved ahead in investment and trade.
“The United States is ‘all in it’ about the future of Africa,” Biden told African leaders attending a three-day summit in Washington.
Biden’s statements and the summit aim to position the United States as a partner for African countries in the midst of their competition with China, which has sought to expand its influence by financing infrastructure projects on the continent and elsewhere. Chinese trade with Africa is about four times that of the United States, and Beijing has become an important creditor by offering loans on less stringent terms than Western lenders.
Biden said a new US agreement with the African Continental Free Trade Area would give US companies access to 1.3 billion people and a $3.4 trillion market. He listed the companies that made deals at the top, including General Electric (GE.N) and Cisco Systems (CSCO.O).
“When Africa succeeds, the United States succeeds. And quite frankly, the whole world succeeds, too,” the president said.
Delegations from 49 countries and the African Union, including 45 African national leaders, are attending the three-day summit, which began on Tuesday, the first and first of its kind since 2014. Washington has provided $55 billion to support Africa under the Biden administration’s framework for food security and change. Climate, business partnerships and other issues.
The White House said that after his statements, Biden watched some of the World Cup semi-final matches between Morocco and France with Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch and other leaders who attended the summit.
This afternoon, Biden will host leaders facing the 2023 election, including from Gabon and Liberia, to discuss elections and democratic principles. Then Biden and his wife, Jill, will host African leaders and their spouses at a White House dinner with Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff.
The summit is part of a renewed push to strengthen ties with the continent as China gains influence through trade, investment and lending. Beijing has held its high-level meetings with African leaders every three years for more than two decades.
Some US officials were reluctant to portray the gathering as a battle for turf. Biden did not mention China in his remarks, and Washington has softened its criticism of Beijing’s lending practices and infrastructure projects.
Biden is expected to announce his support for the African Union to join the Group of Twenty, which includes the world’s largest economies, as a permanent member during the summit events on Thursday.
US Trade Representative Catherine Tay told her African counterparts on Tuesday that she wants to improve the US Trade Preferences Program on the continent to boost investment.
“We’re not looking for a relationship that is mutualistic, extractive, stressful, or that leaves different countries in a more vulnerable state after the deal is done,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters Monday.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby on Wednesday highlighted the importance of US investments in Africa and helping countries there play a more active role in the global economy.
“It’s a two-way discussion that we want to have with Africa about trade, investment and opportunities for economic growth,” he told reporters.
At an inaugural trade forum on Wednesday, African leaders called for more investment.
“Instead of exporting goods, the United States should find an opportunity to invest,” said Kenyan President William Ruto. “They have the machinery and the know-how to be able to produce for the African continent in Africa.”
Noting predictions that Africa’s agribusiness sector will more than triple to $1 trillion by 2030, Ruto said U.S. capital could help solve the continent’s physical infrastructure deficit to unlock that growth.
Trade between China and Africa
According to the Eurasia Group analysis, in 2021, the $254 billion China-Africa trade volume significantly exceeded the $64.3 billion trade between the United States and Africa. These numbers are higher than $12 billion and $21 billion, respectively, in 2002.
Beijing’s lending to Africa has led to Western accusations that China has indebted African countries.
Beijing’s ambassador to Washington dismissed the idea before the summit, citing a report that African countries owed three times as much debt as Western institutions, while noting that Chinese hospitals, highways, airports, and stadiums are “everywhere” in Africa.
China remains the largest bilateral investor in the region, but new loan commitments to Africa have slipped in recent years.
It’s not just about economic clout – Washington has been wary of China’s efforts to establish a military foothold in Africa, including on the Atlantic coast of Equatorial Guinea.
For their part, many African leaders reject the idea that they need to choose between the United States and China.
“The fact that both countries have different levels of relations with African countries makes them equally important for Africa’s development,” Taye Atski Selassie Amde, Ethiopia’s ambassador to the United Nations, told Reuters. “However, it should be known that each African country has the agency to determine its own relationship and best interests.”
Additional reporting by David Lauder, Steve Holland and Andrea Shalal in Washington and Michelle Nichols in New York. Editing by Don Dorphy, Leslie Adler, Heather Timmons and Jonathan Otis
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