In the era of Trump and Brexit, Africa needs one assertive voice

"We will follow two simple rules: buy American and hire American," emphasised President Donald Trump at the inauguration of his presidency on January 20. This declaration is a follow-up to his campaign rhetoric that it is time for America to stop engaging in deals that do not necessarily benefit Americans – with the President going as far as insinuating that every current deal involving the United States will be up for review.

“We will follow two simple rules: buy American and hire American,”  emphasised President Donald Trump at the inauguration of his presidency on January 20.

This declaration is a follow-up to his campaign rhetoric that it is time for America to stop engaging in deals that do not necessarily benefit Americans – with the President going as far as insinuating that every current deal involving the United States will be up for review. 

Therefore, it is not surprising that on day one, President Trump wasted no time in honouring his promises, an action that threw a spanner in the works of one such deal. On his first full day in office, Mr Trump signed an Executive Order to begin the withdrawal of the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) - a trade deal spearheaded by the Obama administration and subsequently signed in February 2016 by twelve countries that border the Pacific Ocean.

In a nutshell, the TPP trade deal was viewed by the Obama administration as a deal that would not only curtail the growing influence of China in the Asia-Pacific region, but one that would  also play a vital role in deepening economic ties of twelve influential countries with a total population of 800 million people.

In addition to the elimination of tariffs on goods and services between member countries, those in favour of the TPP envisaged the prospect of operating in an EU-style single market where countries would eventually be borderless when it came to trade.

Yet, Trump saw it completely different. For instance, while campaigning, the self-imposed crème de la crème of negotiations labelled TPP as a total disaster mainly because of its perceived threat to American jobs. Mr Trump singled out Mexico as the main beneficiary of job relocations from the US.

So, should Africa be concerned just yet? Well, we are often told that no news is good news, but in this case the deafening silence from both America and post Brexit Britain should be call for concern for a continent eager to shed off the aid label and engage in trade.

And so far, I have seen nothing to convince me that we are ready to counter Trump should he wish to repeal some trade deals between Africa and the US - if he so chooses that they aren’t in the best interest of his people.

One such trade deal is the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which is a trade deal enacted in 2000 to enhance market access to the US for many Sub-Saharan African countries, including all East African nations, bar Burundi which was recently suspended.

Evidently, whilst the US benefits from AGOA by way of expanding markets for US goods and services in Sub-Saharan Africa, AGOA has equally provided US market access for many in Sub-Saharan Africa, prompting a $1 billion trade deficit in 2015 on the part of the United States.

In fact, according to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, under AGOA, although US goods imports from Sub-Saharan Africa have been on a decline, they still fetched in a total of $18.9 billion in 2015 for Sub-Saharan Africa.

To illustrate, the top US import suppliers from Sub-Saharan Africa were: South Africa ($7.3 billion), Angola ($2.8 billion), Nigeria ($1.9 billion), Chad ($1.3 billion), and Ivory Coast ($1 billion).

Notably, in the same year, mineral fuels (crude) from Sub-Saharan Africa to the United States raised ($6.6 billion), precious stones - platinum and diamond ($2.9 billion), vehicles ($1.5 billion), Cocoa ($1.2 billion), and Iron & Steel ($662 million).

In addition, under AGOA, eligible Sub-Saharan countries exported to the United States agricultural products worth $2.3 billion in 2015; with cocoa beans accounting for ($984 million), coffee – unroasted ($265 million), tree nuts ($186 million), cocoa paste and cocoa butter ($166 million), and finally, spices ($138 million). 

And while the US department of commerce indicates that exports to Sub-Saharan Africa supported an estimated 121 thousand American jobs in 2014, that number could be three or four times in Africa as a result of exports to the United States.

But if there is silence from the Trump administration and we should supposedly take that as good news, what about the state of trade deals between Africa and post Brexit Britain? Well, that is even more worrying.

In fact, last week, while writing for The Times, Richard Dowden noted something peculiar. He wrote that “in the debate about trade deals post Brexit, one destination has been almost completely ignored: Africa.

China and India are the targets for future UK trade.” Mr Dowden makes the case that in post Brexit, Britain must seize chance for more trade with Africa especially so in view of the projected economic growth of the continent.

The author adds that although Africa’s growth rate dropped slightly to about 3.7 percent in 2016, it is projected to rise to 4.5 percent next year - the second highest in the world after East Asia. So why isn’t post Brexit Britain taking note?

But while Dowden appears to be concerned by the perceived lack of interest shown in Africa by Britain’s Brexit administration, personally I am more concerned by the perceived lack of a unified voice - an assertive African voice that doesn’t just sit and wait for Britain to come knocking on the door, but instead goes out to pitch Africa’s potential to Theresa May and Trump. It is not enough to just have potential.

Rest assured that it is not beyond Mr Trump to go as far as reviewing every trade deal, including the 2013 Trade Africa initiative – an initiative by Obama intended to double intra-regional trade in Africa - albeit beginning with the EAC by increasing the bloc’s exports to the United States by 40 percent.

By and large, as Africans, we need to completely rethink the way in which we position our continent when a new world order is underway. It is not enough to just sit and hope that business will remain as usual when for example; protectionism is the new order of the day. We should not be relaxed at thought of being irrelevant on the world stage.

In fact, a continent such as ours with over a billion people (read a billion potential consumers), and with some of the fastest growing economies in the world should be part of the conversation whether in London, Washington D.C, or Beijing.

Perhaps it isn’t that we are invisible or irrelevant. Maybe it is quite simply that we lack a unified and assertive voice that attracts good attention at the highest table. Well, let us hope that our leaders believe in us just as much as we believe in our potential.

But first, they have to actually begin by electing the AU chairperson this time around and avoid the East vs West battle for the AU chair. That only serves to weaken us rather than strengthen us.  

junior.mutabazi@yahoo.co.uk

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