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U.S.-Africa summit resets focus on tapping burgeoning markets

August 4, 2014 at 6:18 PM EST
As the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit kicks off at the White House, the Obama administration hopes to begin catching up to China, the biggest trading partner of a continent that boasts many of the world's fastest-growing economies. Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York, and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker join Judy Woodruff to discuss Africa’s economic promise and challenges.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to a closer look at a continent in transition, as an historic White House summit kicks off today in the nation’s capital.

Tight security and a large police presence marked the start of the U.S./Africa Leaders Summit in Washington. Nearly 50 heads of state and many other officials are attending. One goal for the Obama administration is to use the event to begin catching up to China, which, in 2009, eclipsed the U.S. as Africa’s biggest trading partner.

On Friday, President Obama touted the potential, including some $1 billion in business deals being announced this week.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I have had conversations over the last several months with U.S. businesses, some of the biggest U.S. businesses in the world, and they say, Africa, that’s one of our top priorities; we want to do business with those folks, and we think that we can create U.S. jobs and send U.S. exports to Africa, but we have got to be engaged. And so this gives us a chance to do that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Africa already boasts many of the world’s fastest growing economies and is home to major deposits of gold, oil and other resources. There’s also a huge potential work force. In 2010, 70 percent of Africans were under the age of 30.

But parts of the continent remain beset by violence, corruption and human rights abuses. In Libya, rival militias continue battling for control of Tripoli’s international airport. And in South Sudan, hundreds of thousands face hunger, many of them fleeing fighting between the government and rebels.

The Central African Republic, Eritrea, Sudan, and Zimbabwe were not invited to the summit because they’re suspended from the African Union or under U.S. sanctions.

The presidents of Liberia and Sierra Leone are also staying home to deal with the Ebola outbreak in their nations.

Earlier today, I spoke with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker about Africa’s economic promise and its challenges. Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Department of Commerce are co-hosting tomorrow’s U.S./Africa Business Forum, where President Obama will give the keynote address.

Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, thank you for talking with us.

PENNY PRITZKER, Secretary of Commerce: Thank you for having us.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Secretary Pritzker, let me start with you. What does the Obama administration want to accomplish with this summit?

PENNY PRITZKER: Well, the summit has many parts to it.

There’s obviously a diplomatic part. There’s talking about all different kinds of subjects. The part that Mike and are I focused on is the CEO summit, which is really an exciting anchor to the entire African visits. We have 51 heads of state attending the entire summit. And we expect to have over 40 attend our business summit, along with hundreds of business leaders, both from the United States and from African businesses.

And the goal is to get them together to start talking about what are the opportunities that they can have in the business community.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mayor Bloomberg, is there a message you see coming out of this gathering?

FMR. MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, New York City: I think the message is that — for American businesses, that Africa is a land of opportunity. Its technologically not left back. It’s now catching up very rapidly. It is urbanizing. Communications and transportation are all getting better, so that Americans will be able to sell products overseas, will be able to buy products for America.

From the African side, it is trying to send the message that America cares. For too long, we have let China be the main focus, the main proponent of doing deals, of making investments in Africa for natural resources to build up their markets for their products.

And we have unfortunately not done anything. And then along comes Penny Pritzker, and now America is reaching out, and we have to do that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And,in fact, Secretary Pritzker, there are folks out there who are critical of this administration, many of them former supporters, who are saying this administration has — did let China outpace the U.S. in terms of investment, that this president hasn’t done enough when if came to investing in aid, in fact, that money, aid money has been cut back, that the president hasn’t done enough when it comes to corruption, human rights.

What do you say?

PENNY PRITZKER: I say, first of all, over the next couple of days, you are going to hear a lot about all of the commitments that are being made to Africa by this administration, in partnership with philanthropic organizations, businesses and others.

So it is the government and the private sector coming together to really put its best foot forward in Africa. But let’s remember something. This is the first-of-its-kind summit where you have brought together this kind of leadership to really say, not just what have we done, but what can we do?

And what we’re trying to do is to create a catalyst for increased future activities. And I’m convinced that we’re going to have to great effect. You’re going to hear an enormous number of announcements over the next two days.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: It strikes me that you are talking about a bunch of people who have done nothing and are complaining about the past.

What about the future? I don’t know why everybody focuses on that. Should have, would have, and could have was the way the kids would say it. The fact of the matter is, there is an opportunity. Commerce is facing that opportunity, recognizing it, and Penny is leading the charge to do something about it. That’s great.

Why are we going to sit around and whip ourselves?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, so some of that has to do with not wanting to repeat mistakes. But what do you think shouldn’t be repeated? What needs to be done differently going forward?

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Neglect shouldn’t be and ignorance. Those are the things, that people didn’t pay attention, didn’t know, weren’t aggressive enough and ambitious enough.

Maybe they had other markets to focus on. But we live in a world today where you cannot walk away from any one market, particularly a market the size of Africa.

PENNY PRITZKER: So let me build on that. Six of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa.

Incomes have risen 30 percent over the last 10 years. You have got expected — 6 percent annual GDP growth expected over the next 10 years. 250,000 Americans go to work every day in America supported by exports that are being sold to Africa. And that’s just the beginning. There’s enormous opportunity.

And what we’re trying to do is really raise awareness, but then more importantly get people who know how to get things done in a room together to figure out, how do you make deals, how do we get more commerce going, how do we get — make — and this will be good for both African companies, African countries, and American business and the American people.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: The American public wants jobs. This is how you create jobs.

PENNY PRITZKER: Right.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: The American public wants to have great products at affordable prices. This is how you get it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: At the same time, you have a continent that, yes, has made great progress when it comes to business and investment, but is also still plagued with enormous security concerns, human rights violations.

What do you say…

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: What are you talking about Africa or North America? We have the same problems too, maybe not as great as that, but we’re hardly without our problems.

We can sit around and look at the downside, Judy, or we can say — just deal with those things and make things better. There is no part of the world you can go to where you don’t have a security problem in this day and age. There is no place in the world you can go where there aren’t some bad people. So what?

JUDY WOODRUFF: My question is, what do you say to business executives about that? Do they not deal with those countries where those problems exist?

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Well, I think the answer to that is, you are going to see the president, I hope — and I don’t have any inside information — hope a whole bunch of — announce a whole bunch of deals. That would be a nice capstone.

Before we went on the air, you asked us, how do you end this? You end this with the president announcing some progress, and hopefully the progress will be there and he will be able to explain to people what comes out of this summit.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But do you tell business leaders, for example, in countries where there are human rights violations basically to ignore them or to work around them? How do…

PENNY PRITZKER: Well, one of the exciting things about having American business present in a community is, what does American business bring to the table?

They bring a respect for rule of law, commitment to ethics, work force training, CSR, you know, investing in the communities, so many different things. And what I find when I’m going around the world — and certainly I found this on my trade mission to Africa — these countries’ leaders want our businesses present.

And so they — because they — they’re a positive force. If you look at the kind of products and goods and services that our companies are bringing to the marketplace in these countries, it’s exciting, whether it’s access to power or it’s access to health care, all in formats that are appropriate for those countries.

So this is really fundamental what can be done. And so this is exciting.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And so how do you measure success, Mayor Bloomberg, from this going forward?

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Well, the nice thing about business, you measure success by commerce.

They’re real numerics. This is not just touchy-feely, I feel things are better. It’s how much trade goes back and forth, how many jobs are created, how many new businesses are started, all concrete things that you can measure.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But knowing that there are some obstacles, some challenges out there that are particularly problematic in some of these countries more than in others.

PENNY PRITZKER: So one of the things that we’re doing, as the federal government, is we’re expanding the presence of our foreign commercial service in Tanzania, Ethiopia, Angola, Mozambique, and then we’re opening offices, as well as we’re expanding our presence in our other offices in Africa.

What does the Foreign Commercial Service do? These are folks who work for the Department of Commerce whose soul job it is, is to help American companies navigate those obstacles that you are talking about, so they can bring their good American-made goods and services to those countries.

So this is what — we can do a lot to support these — the effort to do more commerce in these countries and have it be beneficial to America.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we will be watching and listening over the next few days and beyond.

Secretary Pritzker, Mayor Bloomberg, we thank you.

PENNY PRITZKER: Thank you.