President Barack Obama is proposing to boost U.S. trade and investment in East Africa through a new partnership aimed at enhancing commercial and economic ties between our country and the region. The effort, announced July 18 in Nairobi, Kenya, by Michael Froman, a top advisor to the president on international economic affairs, underscores the growing interest among American businesses in Africa and the United States government’s continued commitment toward economic development in that region in particular.
Under the proposed U.S.-East African Community Trade and Investment Partnership, the United States and the five member states of the East African Community -- an intergovernmental organization comprising the governments of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda – would enter into a treaty to ensure fair and equitable treatment of U.S. businesses investing in those counties. That will give investors confidence that the region is a good place to do business.
If the treaty is approved by the respective legislatures, the partners would also set up programs to facilitate trade by, among other things, reducing bottlenecks at borders through improved customs procedures and standardized paperwork requirements. Under the Partnership, a regional forum is also envisioned in which private sector interests in the five counties and the U.S. could work with governments to develop trade and investment policies.
Trade between the East African Community and the United States is strong and continues to grow, up 34 percent from 2010 to 2011. Forming a market of 130 million people, the EAC has seen trade boom among its member states as well. Eliminating border delays and easing documentation requirements through such a partnership would likely bring further growth. The International Trade Commission – a U.S. government agency that studies regional commerce – found that EAC countries require different documentation for exports and imports, and on average they require twice as much paperwork as the global best practice.
Acting U.S. Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank will travel to the region to discuss trade and development with regional leaders. To help support U.S. trade and investment in the region, two government agencies that help American companies do business abroad, the U.S. Export-Import Bank and Overseas Private Investment Corporation, are increasing their financial commitments to East Africa.
Since taking office, President Obama has made it clear that our country would engage with Africa in a partnership based on mutual responsibility and respect. The proposed East African trade and investment partnership announced this month is a clear reflection of this effort.