President Trump has been making news with desire to close trade gaps with China, Europe, Mexico and Canada, attempting to counter trade practices that make it significantly more difficult to export to these countries and have resulted in a significant trade gap with the world. While we keep focusing on these big countries, I think we’re missing opportunities that are presenting themselves in Africa.
The second President Bush really pushed to expand our aid to Africa, and overall the US has a positive image in most African nations. We’ve had issues in the past (Libya, Egypt, etc.), but in general our policy of trying to support democracy and then follow with trade has been solid. One significant event that didn’t seem to get much press was the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which negotiated more open trade with an African country based on it pushing towards democracy and human rights preservation.
But we’re behind the ball. China has been steadily advancing in Africa, glad to find a new market with so few restrictions. The Chinese are content to crank out cellular networks, naval bases and oil pipelines in Africa to help fuel its economic growth. Africa is a great market because it is easy to bribe and doesn’t really follow many international regulations. The consequences have been pretty ugly. In Sudan, Chinese supplied training and arms were used to massacre people in Darfur and South Sudan when those people got in the way of oil drilling. It was amazing to me that this didn’t garner media attention, while moving a US oil pipeline garnered intense attention.
China’s inattention to human rights gives us an opening though. We’re seeing an uptick in African nations pushing for real democratic reforms in Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Nigeria. As Africans get more connected to the outside world, they are demanding human rights that simply can’t come from autocratic regimes like China.
President Trump has a huge opportunity here to expand trade with Africa. Given Africa’s physical location, it is significantly easier to move goods back and forth from the continent. Not only could this reduce our dependence on Chinese goods, but it will place a dent in China’s ability to continue building a massive war machine and make it more susceptible to a naval blockade should it decide to go to war. Even President Trump’s demeanor is well matched for Africa. His track record of simply getting things done and applying simple actions is a good match for a continent that wants to see results quickly.
We’ve got a chance to catch up in Africa. Hopefully we can take it soon.
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