During the recent meeting of the President’s Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa (PAC-DBIA), Commerce Secretary Pritzker candidly admitted that the Obama Administration has been “grappling” with how to move forward on the proposed U.S.-Africa Infrastructure Center because the U.S. Commercial Service does not have the necessary resources and training to effect a proposal that is “still too broad and unrealistic to achieve.”  A critical first step — and one that would be of assistance beyond the infrastructure sector — would be to better centralize, coordinate and leverage existing U.S. government resources on doing business in Africa.  Here are four specific ways to accomplish that goal:

  • Centralize all investment and trade-related research on each country. Various U.S. government agencies issue reports on the trade and investment climates in foreign countries.  The State Department has its Investment Climate Statements.  The U.S. Department of Commerce has its Country Commercial Guides and other market research reports.  The Office of the United States Trade Representative (“USTR”) has its annual Special 301 Reports which focus on the “adequacy and effectiveness of U.S. trading partners’ protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights.”  The USTR also maintains a website containing current information on trade agreements and statistics.  All of this research should be reconciled and centralized in one location in order to better ensure that potential investors have as full a picture as available of the countries of interest.
  • Leverage the work done by foreign trade and investment commissions. A significant number of African countries — including Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and Rwanda — have created some form of a trade and investment commission. These commissions seek to be a one-stop shop for foreign investors to learn about the incentives to doing business in the country, in which sectors to do business in the country, and how to get started doing business in the country.  The U.S. government should avail itself of the considerable wealth of information that these countries have compiled and centralized on doing business in their respective jurisdictions.
  • Get the Trade Leads Database up and running. The Export.gov Trade Leads Database is meant to contain “pre-screened, time-sensitive leads and Government Tenders gathered through U.S. Commercial Service offices around the world.” However, for the past two days, the database on the new version of the Export.gov website has listed only one trade lead … and it is in Russia. Perhaps that is why both internet search engines and a wide range of U.S. government websites still link to the old version of the Export.gov website. However, the database on the old version of the website has not been updated since April 2009.  Meanwhile, the UKTI Business Opportunities Portal, which is a comparable website maintained by the UK government, tells a completely different story about the numerous and current business opportunities in the African region.
  • Create an industry-by-industry matrix of relevant government agencies and programs. Through the Doing Business in Africa Campaign, the U.S. government is investing billions of dollars in the African region. However, it remains difficult to keep track of which agencies are relevant to which industries.  For example, the U.S. Agency for International Development, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency all have initiatives and programming focused on the African agribusiness sector.  A simple industry-by-industry matrix of agencies and their Africa-focused initiatives, programs and activities would help U.S. companies know which agencies they might want to approach regarding their interests in doing business in Africa.