US seeks to be long-term partner to Africa

Written by Reuters | Washington | Updated: Aug 6 2014, 11:30am hrs
President Barack Obama on Tuesday pledged to step up U.S. efforts to promote long-term economic growth in Africa, saying the United States aims to be an equal partner interested in the continent's long-term prospects, not just its natural resources.

"The United States is determined to be a partner in Africa's success," the president said. "A good partner, an equal partner, and a partner for the long term."

The United States does not look to Africa as a place merely to get raw materials to fuel its own domestic growth, he said. Obama's comments were an allusion to emerging economic powers, particularly China, who have been more aggressive in investing in Africa.

Obama and U.S. officials have argued that U.S. firms are seeking longer-term business relationships.

"We want to build genuine partnerships that create jobs and opportunity for all our peoples and then unleash the next area of African growth," he said.

Obama was speaking at a three-day summit in Washington that has brought dozens of African heads of state to the U.S. capital to rub shoulders with captains of U.S. industry and allowed leaders to draw attention to Africa's infrastructure, finance, supply chain and energy needs and on business opportunities for U.S. firms.

U.S. and African companies and the World Bank pledged more than $17 billion in investments in the continent, which conference organizers sought to portray as an attractive destination for trade and investment.

Even as officials touted job and growth possibilities, concerns over the outbreak of the Ebola virus served as a reminder of challenges that continent continues to face. A U.S. aid worker stricken with the Ebola virus in West Africa was brought to the United States for treatment on Tuesday.

Obama also urged African leaders to create a political environment that would support economic growth.

"Capital is one thing, development programs and projects are one thing, but rule of law, regulatory reforms, good governance, those things matter even more," he said.

The president also had some advice for U.S. business executives in the audience: lobby to reauthorize the U.S. Export-Import Bank.

Conservative congressional Republicans oppose renewing the charter of the bank, which makes loans to buyers of U.S. exports. Opponents of the bank say it is engaging in crony capitalism, benefiting large multinational firms such as Boeing Co, Caterpillar Inc, and General Electric Co and putting taxpayers at risk of losses if borrowers default on loans.

Supporters argue the bank allows U.S. firms to compete with competitors from Europe, China, and elsewhere that receive ample export subsidies from their home governments. Backers further say that in addition to helping big companies, the bank supports jobs among thousands of smaller employers who supply those firms.