US playing catch up in Africa

The US admitted that it was lagging behind the international business community competing for a footing in Africa, Reuters reported.

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That was why a US business group recently said it was creating a new body called the US-South Africa Business Council, as part of a broader effort to respond to increased competition throughout the continent from China, Europe and others."We need to elevate the business community’s game in the continent. We have American investment there, but we have fallen behind frankly in the last 10 years," Myron Brilliant, senior vice president at the US Chamber of Commerce said.

The initiative was the latest US effort to make up lost ground in Africa, which in 2012 was home to many of the fastest-growing economies in the world. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the continent in August and acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank just returned from a trip to South Africa and Kenya.

It also came at a time while South Africa continued to struggle with high unemployment and widespread poverty. "The goal of both countries is create jobs, among other things. Jobs and economic growth," US Under-Secretary of State, Robert Hormats told Reuters. "We really see this as part of a two-way win-win process where we can strengthen trade ties and investment."

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US companies that invest in South Africa would be in a better position to compete throughout Africa, Hormats said. Charter members of the US-South Africa Council included beverage maker, Coca-Cola, engineering and construction firm Black & Veatch and drug manufacturer Eli Lilly and Co, as well as smaller firms such as Solar Reserve, a solar energy project development company.

US companies saw business opportunities in sectors such as mining, finance, communications, energy, transportation and infrastructure development, said Scott Eisner, vice president for African affairs at the US Chamber of Commerce. "There has been a shift in thinking in corporate America towards Africa. The Chinese owned the better part of the last decade when it came to investment there" and this attracted the attention of US corporate and government leaders, Eisner said.

The US business community will use the new council as a vehicle to get into other emerging markets in Africa, such as Mozambique with its plentiful natural gas resources and Botswana with its huge coal reserves, he said.