Last year, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker stood up the President’s Doing Business in Africa Advisory Council, a group of small, medium and large US businesses currently engaged in business on the continent and tasked with helping shape U.S. policy for business engagement with the continent.
The makeup of the council is very interesting. You’ve got people ranging from Dominic Barton, head of McKinsey, to Kevon Makell, head of a renewable energy consultancy based in Charlotte, to Karen Daniel, CFO at Black and Veatch.
If you’re as slow as I am at washing dishes, that two hours will give you enough time to watch this two-part recording of the advisory council’s first meeting on April 8.
Three things caught my attention during the meeting:
- Mr. Barton challenged the Council to think big, specifically in positioning the US to double its share global trade with the continent in five years. In 2013, our share was down to 7 percent from 13 percent in 2001. Compare that with China which has gone from 3 percent to 14 percent in the same window.
- Wal-Mart was very clear in communicating that African countries not meeting its logistical needs amongst others should not expect partnerships equal to what countries that did meet their needs would experience.
- The various US agencies that have significant engagement on the continent don’t really know what tools they have respectively for engagement on the continent. This includes OPIC, USAID, the State Department, and the U.S. Ex-Im Bank. Their representatives seemed to agree on the need for better coordination.
One of the recommendations that stood out was a US-Africa Infrastructure Center which would equip US infrastructure developers to more effectively compete for deals on the continent. This struck me as a platform that could be helpful in tracking progress in closing the gap on the World Bank’s projection of $93B per year for 10 years investment in infrastructure across the continent.
Further, the platform could serve as a helpful marketing tool in showing the effectiveness of US infrastructure developers in terms of time to completion, total project cost, lifespan of finished projects before maintenance, among other metrics. Then again, it may be a better move to invest in the work already done by the African Development Bank, World Bank, and other stakeholders in setting up a platform focused on infrastructure development.
The council meets next in September or October. I look forward to tracking their progress. Hopefully, I would have figured out how to be helpful to their work in some way by then.