Weekly Columns

The latest statistics show Arkansas’s unemployment rate at 7.6 percent, unchanged from the previous month. While this is below the national average, this number is still too high. The name of the game right now needs to be jobs and how we can create an environment that will encourage businesses to hire and grow. 

This is a common goal shared amongst members of Congress. The big question is how do we accomplish that? One of the ways that we are going to grow our economy and create jobs is by exporting more American goods. We have a bipartisan solution that will help create American jobs by dramatically increasing the number of U.S. exports to Africa.  

The Increasing American Jobs Through Greater Exports to Africa Act of 2012, spearheaded by myself and Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Christopher Coons (D-DE) gives us that opportunity. This bill challenges us to increase exports to Africa by 200 percent and gives us the incentive and a template for how to do just that.  By requiring better coordination amongst U.S. government agencies and departments responsible for trade, establishing comprehensive strategic goals, and marshaling private investments to improve U.S.-Africa business activities, we can reach this goal and help create much needed jobs in the U.S. 

In the past, our country has been a leader at providing aid to the people of Africa, but it is time we transition this relationship from aid to trade.  Six out of 10 of the fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa and Arkansas’s exporters are uniquely positioned to capitalize on increased trade with the African continent. Arkansas companies exported $5.6 billion in merchandise to foreign markets in 2011 and that total is bound to increase if we adopt a competitive strategy to tap into Africa’s emerging markets. 

Africa is developing a healthy middle class, something it hasn’t seen before, and the people are hungry for high quality American products and services. Having served on the Africa Subcommittee in the House of Representatives, I have been to many countries on the continent on several occasions. Trade with the U.S. is constantly a top issue on the agenda during meetings with leaders of African nations, and more importantly these officials are extremely concerned about China’s increasing footprint in Africa.

This bill will establish a plan that will allow us to compete with nations like China that are already extremely active in African markets. Unfortunately, our county’s exports have largely been overshadowed by China which surpassed the United States as the African continent’s largest trading partner in 2009. Today China outpaces us in exports to Africa by an alarming three to one.

We can create a competitive advantage for American products while simultaneously expanding job opportunities here at home. This legislation establishes a coordinated and strategic plan that will allow our small and medium sized businesses to compete with the likes of China, India and Brazil. Exporting American goods is a commonsense approach to providing African nations with quality goods and services while increasing jobs in the U.S.