Dr. Boozman's Check-up

Last week, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker returned from a diplomatic mission to Africa that concluded with a stop in Ethiopia, where she met with President Mulatu Teshome and private sector leaders to discuss ways to increase bilateral trade and investment between the U.S. and Ethiopia.

Prior to her stop in Ethiopia, Secretary Pritzker also visited Ghana and Nigeria where she focused on ways that U.S. companies can launch or increase their business in West Africa’s energy sector.

It’s no coincidence that Secretary Pritzker’s first visit to Africa included Ethiopia, Africa’s second-fastest growing economy, and Nigeria, the continent’s largest economy. These are markets ripe for U.S. companies, including many small businesses in Arkansas, that could benefit dramatically if we increased trade with our allies in Africa.

In Arkansas, we already export $5.6 billion in merchandise each year. One of the ways that we are going to climb out of the economic doldrums that we're in and create jobs is by raising that number even higher. The potential for U.S. companies in African markets is enormous, so I am pleased to see the Secretary working with her counterparts in these countries to create opportunities for new partnerships. Trade abroad truly does equal jobs at home.

Despite the United States’ considerable involvement throughout the African continent, our current system of export promotion and finance with these nations is little more than a poorly coordinated patchwork of more than a dozen government agencies that businesses find too difficult to navigate and that fails to provide support to exporters. Bottom line: The United States does not have a harmonized export strategy for Africa while our global competitors do.

This is why I joined my colleagues Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Senator Christopher Coons (D-DE) to introduce a bill to increase America’s competiveness throughout Africa by forcing better coordination between U.S. government agencies and departments, establishing comprehensive strategic goals, and marshaling private investments to improve U.S.-Africa business activities. This bill challenges us to increase exports to Africa by 200 percent and gives us the incentive and a template for how to reach that goal.

A key provision of our legislation—establish a White House-designated senior coordinator to review current export strategies with the ultimate goal of significantly increasing our imports to Africa—was included in the law that authorized defense spending for this year.  

A robust trade strategy with Africa is vital for our economic prosperity. Africa is developing a healthy middle class. This newfound wealth has generated a huge demand for American products throughout Africa. We just need a comprehensive strategy to allow U.S. companies to reach these growing markets.  It is my hope that the first visit to Africa by a U.S. Secretary of Commerce in over a decade is a signal of a newfound intention toward this goal.

Read more about the Durbin-Boozman-Coons bill.