Diversifying African Trade: The Road to Progress

On Wednesday, December 16, the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center launched its newest report, Diversifying African Trade: The Road to Progress. The study, authored by Africa Center Senior Fellow Aubrey Hruby, details continent-wide success in diversifying African trade flows by expanding both products and partners. The report also addresses some of the obstacles to improved and increased African trade.

Africa Center Director J. Peter Pham welcomed attendees and noted that the report’s launch comes at a strategic time for Africa, where the World Trade Organization’s 2015 Ministerial is being held this week in Nairobi, Kenya.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa Michael Lally offered opening remarks, focusing in on the report’s key recommendations made on supporting non-traditional sectors, promoting the development of hard and soft infrastructure, and assessing the quantity and quality of external investment. He noted that the US Department of Commerce is supporting African governments to achieve all of these recommendations and more, citing President Barack Obama’s landmark initiatives on doing business in Africa as the starting point for US agencies.

Michael Lally providing remarks

Hruby then detailed the report’s main findings, noting that despite success in marketing new products to different partners, many African nations remain too dependent on commodities. Regional economic integration—which supports inter-regional and inter-continental trade—is steadily progressing but should be sped up through more focused political will and resources.

A panel discussion, moderated by Pham, followed with Hruby, Temitope Iluyemi from Procter and Gamble’s Sub-Saharan Africa Global Government Relations and Public Policy team, and Leila Ndiaye, Director of Policy for African Affairs with the US Chamber of Commerce.

Iluyemi offered a private sector view, and she stressed the importance of eliminating non-tariff barriers to trade, including costly and lengthy shipping and burdensome visa requirements for intra-Africa travel; citing a past experience, she noted that the fastest route to ship a product from Nigeria to Ghana is to first ship to Spain, despite the fact that Nigeria and Ghana are separated only by tiny Togo and Benin.      

Ndiaye focused on the US Chamber of Commerce’s work with the Economic Community of West African State and stressed the importance of encouraging African governments to harmonize trade policies to ensure consistency across various regions.

The panel also took questions from the audience, which consisted of representatives from the US and other government as well as the private sector.

This report is part of a partnership between the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center and the OCP Policy Center and is made possible by generous support from the OCP Foundation. 


Image: From left to right, J. Peter Pham, Aubrey Hruby, Temitope Iluyemi, and Leila Ndiaye.