Johannesburg: President Barack Obama’s Administration remained 'profoundly committed to putting Africa back at the centre of US foreign policy' and there would be 'a greater emphasis on Africa in 2011 and 2012', Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Diplomacy in the Bureau of African Affairs Bruce Wharton said in Washington DC this week. But he also warned that it would require a concerted effort to convince Americans to extend the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), which currently offers preferential market access on 7 000 African product lines.
Agoa was due to come to an end in 2015, and many African countries are expected to call for the scheme to be rolled over.
Addressing foreign correspondents at the State Department, Wharton, whose 25-year foreign service career has been split between South America and Africa, having served stints in both South Africa and Zimbabwe, also indicated that the proposed reprioritisation of Africa would be coupled to the creation of 'new models for development and partnerships'.
'For too long, I think, Africa and the United States have had a sort of a client/donor relationship that has not worked well. And so, this administration is looking for new models to do business,' Wharton said.
Envisaged is the development of 'country-led' initiatives, which will seek to eschew an approach whereby development packages are designed in Washington, 'wrapped in a nice ribbon' and offered to the rest of the world.
Nevertheless, the US will also continue with its large global initiatives, such as the ‘Feed the Future’ project, a $3,5-billion-a-year initiative focused on sustainable agriculture, as well as the ‘Global Health Initiative’.
On Agoa, Wharton said that the Administration 'would very much like to see Agoa continue', but said that 'it’s going to take a concerted effort to persuade people in this country [the US] that Agoa remains a good investment'.
He added that, while the scheme had delivered benefits, these had not been 'as great as we would have wished'.
'I think if you look critically at the data from Agoa, it’s pretty clear that oil and petroleum dominates African exports to the United States. There are some examples, though, where it works very well, and we believe that it remains an important framework for economic growth and partnership between Africa and the United States,' he added.
But in the face of America’s own economic challenges, 'it’s important for people like me to make the case that Agoa ultimately translates into American jobs, as well as African jobs'.
Wharton also made a commitment that he would work with members of Congress, as well as with civil society and African allies, to seek an extension of the trade package.