As Africa forges new partnerships, US official says trade with the continent is a “big deal” for America

As the world warms up to Africa and United States President Donald Trump continues to make unwholesome comments about the continent and its leaders, it is easy to conclude that the world power is no longer interested in shaping outcomes in the region. Trump’s recent tweet about land reforms in South Africa is still generating comments and backlash, with President Cyril Ramaphosa telling him to stay out of South Africa’s issues. Trump may be damaging US-Africa relations, but America still wants to trade with the continent.

Peter Haas, US Deputy Assistant Secretary for Trade Policy and Negotiation in a teleconference reported by the News Agency of Nigeria, told journalists that the United States was looking towards Africa for possible free trade agreements, calling it “a big deal”.

“What we were looking for are African countries that would be interested in having bilateral free trade agreements with us,” Haas said.

“I think one of the things that I would like to point out is that this is a kind of big deal for us, to be looking at countries in Africa for possible free trade agreements.

“We are also targeting meetings with the African Union to discuss the future of the US.-Africa trade relationship.

“We will be looking at countries that express interest to determine which ones make sense, both in terms of capacity, readiness, and all of those things,’’ he said.

Good thing is Africa has options. The continent is forging new partnerships, from Russia to China and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). As things stand, for every offer from the US, there are two or three other partners that Africa can turn to. Countries in the European Union have shown great concern and support for Africa on security. Other partners from the Middle East have been very helpful in humanitarian needs. And for trade, everyone wants to be close to Africa for its growing consumer base and mineral wealth.

The US has lost grounds in Africa, and it will take more than teleconferences of good-intended speeches to change the continent’s opinion about America. But Judd Devermont, the director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. does not think much damage is done yet. He made five recommendations to preserve U.S. influence and advance its objectives in the region. Most of them are realistic, only if the United States had a different leader.