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August 5, 09

NEWS / Africans Must Use Trade to Fight Economic Crisis, Kenyan Says

By Charles W. Corey
Staff Writer

Nairobi, Kenya — Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, representing the host nation, officially opened the civil-society and private-sector sessions of the Eighth AGOA Forum on August 4 with the traditional Swahili welcome, “Karibu,” and called for Africa to trade its way out of the global economic crisis.

In a keynote speech before the combined opening session, which included African ministers, Odinga said that “for Africa, the global recession is particularly challenging: It adds to our growing crisis in water, food, energy” and impedes long-term economic growth and development.

“For tens of millions [of Africans], even a small drop in income can put them on the edge of survival,” he said.

As difficult as times are, however, there are chances of “immense opportunity,” he added, and he called for new ways to attack problems “which cannot be addressed through conventional efforts.”

All Africans agree, he said: “We must trade our way out of this crisis.”

Odinga told his audience at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre in Nairobi that Africans are “most fortunate” to have as their partner as they try to find new ways to attack their economic problems a new U.S. presidential administration that is also exploring new ideas and has shown strong support for the continent.

“Never before has an American president and a secretary of state visited our continent so early in their tenure,” he told the delegates, before going on to publicly thank Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who would arrive later in Nairobi to attend the Eighth AGOA Forum as the first stop on her historic seven-nation Africa trip.

“There was a time,” Odinga said, “where we sought aid to resolve our economic development needs.” But now Africans see more international and regional trade as a viable solution, he said, particularly in light of the global economic crisis and the subsequent decline in international investment.

Africans embrace trade with “renewed vigor” as the means to achieve long-term economic growth and development, he said.

Odinga praised the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which was passed in its original form in 2000 as a trade preference program for the import of African goods into the U.S. market, as a catalyst, but said it is too early to claim full success for the law.

He called on Africans to increase the quality and quantity of their export products for both international and regional markets. “Only then can we become significant global actors — economically and politically — to make maximum use of AGOA opportunities.”

In 2008, he said, the United States imported $93 billion in apparel, but only $1 billion of it came from Africa. He said that is because most African production comes from small and medium-sized producers who have trouble filling large orders for the United States.

While Africa moves to remedy that problem, he said, it must also focus on expanding regional trade, which still remains “pitifully small.”

“We must create our own export strategies and focus strongly on intra-African trade. That is where there is immense potential,” he said.

Odinga called on Africans to create their own African version of the AGOA Forum and, to a rousing round of applause, asked why it is not possible to open borders across Africa for the free flow of goods and trade.

He said it is easier for someone to travel many nations across Europe than it is for an African businessman to travel from Nigeria to Kenya.

“Why don’t we open our own markets here?” he asked the delegates.

The African market is 800 million consumers strong, he said, but if borders are closed or overly restrictive, African businesses cannot do business and expand, and African economies cannot grow.

On the issue of governance, Odinga said Africa is now in a time of “political transition,” moving away from the strongman dictators such as Mobutu Sese Seko and Idi Amin and embracing accountability, transparency and good governance.

The program also included speakers from the private-sector and civil-society forums and the U.S. ambassador to Kenya, Michael Ranneberger.

The Eighth AGOA Forum, formally known as the U.S.-Sub-Saharan Africa Trade and Economic Cooperation Forum, runs August 4–6 in Nairobi.

A major ministerial session will be held August 5–6. It will be attended by Secretary of State Clinton, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, other Cabinet officials and members of the U.S. Congress. The U.S. government co-sponsors the annual AGOA trade forum.

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