A snippet overheard on a recent TV news program was cause for pause: Over the past decade, six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies were in … Africa.
Like many Americans, I’ve been conditioned to think of the so-called dark continent as one of poverty and strife, even while intellectually aware that some areas are middle-class and even prosperous. It certainly isn’t top-of-mind as a local business angle. But as this article in The Economist points out, despite some entrenched problems, many African countries are embracing technology, producing a better-educated generation of young people and growing the incomes of their citizens.
What a fascinating trend and what a great opportunity to find your region’s ties to Africa’s growing consumer class and business arena. Here’s an excellent piece from The Atlantic, “The Next Asia is Africa,” which is chock full of important background information and leads to resources you can pursue.
The discussion primarily involves the sub-Saharan portion of Africa, excluding the Arab states in North Africa. For background, refer to the site of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, a 2000 law that “provides beneficiary countries in Sub-Saharan Africa with the most liberal access to the U.S. market available to any country or region with which we do not have a Free Trade Agreement. “ The site provides links to a number of resources including data tables and reports. And here’s a U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) backgrounder about factors affecting trade, by industry.
Finding local companies that trade with Africa will take some digging. Try state chambers of commerce and economic development units, and even the business schools at area universities. And of course, if your area is home to household-name multinational corporations, from corn flake makers to IT companies, they likely have African investments and may be aware of others from your market who do business there too.
Right now, aside from energy, tourism may be the average American’s greatest connection to Africa, so contacting tour operators and outfits like the African Business Travel Association may lead you to people who can discuss what they’re seeing from your state or market.
Imports. According to the USITC, 2011 imports from sub-Saharan Africa were more than $74 billion in 2011; here’s a breakdown by sector. Obviously energy and minerals mke up a good share of that but agricultural products, textiles and other sectors were prominent, too. The U.S. Census Bureau also has trade stats for the entire continent. And here’s a U.S. commerce department blog post about economic opportunities in Africa.
Exports. Here’s a look at sectors where the United States exports to Africa; note “transportation equipment” (likely buses, cars — here’s a 2011 USA Today article noting that Ford Motor Co. hopes to boost its Asia/Africa trade to 30 percent of global sales) is a biggie.