Washington, DC — More than 1,000 participants are expected for the U.S.-Africa Business Summit in Gaborone July 11-14, hosted by the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA) and the Government of Botswana with a focus on “enhancing Africa’s value chains”. CCA is the leading U.S. business association devoted solely to promoting business between the United States and Africa.
The Summits, CCA’s signature event, have taken place in Africa and the United States since 1997, bringing together high-level government and private sector leaders from across Africa and the United States. In an interview, CCA President and CEO Florizelle (Florie) Liser said this year’s gathering is timely coming seven months after the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit convened by President Joe Biden in Washington, DC in December, and the rollout of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Liser, who she spent three decades working on trade issues for the U.S. government – including 14 years as the Assistant Trade Representative for Africa – before becoming the third CCA president in 2017, calls AfCFTA “a game changer” and the key to boosting both trade both within the continent as globally. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
This is the 11th Summit CCA has organized. What are some of the distinctive features of the 2023 edition?
After doing the last one in Morocco, we thought it was important to host one in southern Africa [and] present the opportunities there. Botswana represents a smaller country doing the right things – investing in its people, using its diamond resources to build infrastructure. This is a way to highlight that there are countries across the continent, including some smaller economies, that U.S. companies – our members and others – need to take a look at. Another unique aspect of this summit – coming seven months after the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit – is that it offers an opportunity for the U.S. government to continue on the path of building a stronger relationship with Africa.
In terms of participants, you’ve announced a list of leaders who are coming. What about other participants are you expecting to take part?
Yes, we have six heads-of-government confirmed at this point – Presidents Masisi (Botswana), Nyusi (Mozambique), Geingob (Namibia) and Hichilema (Zambia), as well Prime Ministers Matekane (Lesotho) and Dlamini (Eswatini). There may be others. We will be joined by a number of senior officials from various countries including ministers of trade and health. We’re very pleased that we will have the Secretary General of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), Wamkele Mene, Dr. Benedict Oramah, the head of African Export Import Bank and the Africa Finance Corporation CEO Samaila Zubairu.
The U.S. delegation is headed by Scott Nathan of the Development Finance Corporation, joined by Enoh Ebong from the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, Judd Devermont from the NSC, Ambassador Johnnie Carson, U.S. Special Presidential Representative for U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit Implementation, and the African Development Foundation CEO Travis Adkins.
We have many companies from the United States and from Africa, among them Chevron, Axxess, Visa, Citi, Abbott, ILS, MSD, TGI, USP, Acrow, DLA Piper, Barloworld GE Health Care, ExxonMobile, P&G, TDB, Trimble, Pfizer, Cavista Holdings, flutterwave, Covington, Ginkgo Bioworks, Caterpillar, Covington, Charter Cities Institute, Moneda and bizzell. And those are just the sponsors, which gives a flavor of the range of companies big and small that will be with us in Gaborone.
How will the summit theme – “Enhancing Africa’s Value in Global Value Chains” be reflected in the program?
For Africans to play a greater role in global trade – the current share is still less than three percent – they have to be able to process their own products. Everyone knows Africa has the natural resources and the commodities. The problem is value addition. So we’re looking at having high-level sessions on this topic with heads of state examining what roles Africans can play in particular value chains – mining, agribusiness, health, etc. This is a good time for people to be looking at Africa in terms of diversifying their sourcing, especially after supply chains broke down during Covid.
And there are a number of opportunities for collaboration in the production of batteries for electric vehicles, a sector that is growing rapoidly. The DRC and Zambia, for example, have large deposits of critical minerals needed for those batteries. Most of that is being shipped out, principally to China, for processing and production. We need to ask: what would it take for companies to invest in that particular value chain and manufacture the batteries closer to where the major inputs are. That should save money, but it will depend on the business environment and the laws and regulations. Let’s look to see how Africa can be competitive.
You mentioned that Secretary General Mene will be at the Summit and the AfCFTA is an integral part of the program agenda. With your background in trade policy, would you say a little more about the critical contribution the AfCFTA can make to enhancing value.
To increase Africa’s role in global value chains, the AfCFTA is critical. That’s what will enable Africa to be more competitive. If you can ship products – like those needed for battery production – easily from one country to another on the continent, with no tariff barriers or non-tariff barriers, that makes it all the more likely for people to invest in producing and manufacturing more on the continent. I tell people AfCFTA is a game changer, not just for intra African trade but for Africa’s role in the in the global trading system.
With the AfCFTA, companies can set up in one place in Africa and be able to sell goods and services across the continent. I know lots of American companies, many CCA members, are looking at the 54 countries to decide where to invest, Everywhere I go in Africa, people say they want more American businesses, they want more American products. I tell people we are there – but we can and should be doing a lot more in Africa – not because we’re trying to compete with China but because there are a lot of opportunities in key sectors.
That is the role that CCA has played for 30 years, and we believe that the U.S.-Africa Business Summit serves as the premier event that allows American and African leaders, from the public and private sector, to get together to talk about how can we advance our economic relationships.
When the Summit is concluded, what benchmarks will you use to measure success?
You know that CCA is not a deal broker. Our strength is our convening power, who we bring together that can make the deals. And so I would measure success by how many countries are represented at different levels. Last year, we had 32 African countries represented in some way. That’s one measure.
The fact that we have high-level people from multilateral institutions and governments, as well as private sector CEOs and C-suite executives – that’s a big deal for advancing what we’re trying to do with African partners. So that’s another way to measure it.
And also the African participation. When we have our Summits here ]in the United States], it is more difficult for many Africans to participate. Sometimes it’s visa issues. Sometimes it’s the cost, especially for small companies. On the continent, it’s more doable for many. And then, of course, for CCA, being able to raise resources in terms of sponsorships and registrations is also important. It is what helps the organization to function through the rest of the year. This is our signature event.