The first priority of the strategy will be enhancing US economic ties with the region

The first priority of the strategy will be enhancing US economic ties with the region

A new initiative by the Trump administration aims to improve trade and commercial ties with African countries, and counter the growing influence of China and Russia on the continent.

Boosting trade between the United States and Africa is one of three pillars of the new 'Africa Strategy,' which will use the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) promote deeper trade ties and fair trade with sub-Saharan African states.

The other two pillars aim to strengthen security and reform foreign aid programmes to ensure that "US taxpayer dollars for aid are used efficiently and effectively."

Outlined by National Security Advisor Ambassador John Bolton, the strategy is due to begin immediately. "Importantly, the strategy remains true to his central campaign promise to put the interests of the American People first, both at home and abroad," Bolton said in a speech to introduce the document.

The first priority will be enhancing US economic ties with the region – a move Bolton said is not only essential to improving opportunities for American workers and businesses but it vital to safeguarding the economic independence of African states and protecting US national security interests.

"In the coming years and months, we also intend to pursue modern, comprehensive trade agreements on the continent that ensure fair and reciprocal exchange between the United States and the nations of Africa," he added. "We will begin these negotiations on a bilateral basis, and focus on creating mutually beneficial partnerships.

"Our new economic initiatives in Africa will help support American jobs and expand market access for US exports, while promoting sustainable growth in African countries."

The strategy also includes a 'Prosper Africa' initiative that the Trump Administration is developing to support its goal of increasing prosperity both in the US and Africa.

The initiative will support open markets for American businesses, grow Africa's middle class, promote youth employment opportunities, and improve the business climate with benefits expected to include an increase in US exports and greater reciprocity with African trading partners.

Bolton indicated that the overall strategy is intended to counter "the predatory practices pursued by China and Russia [who] are rapidly expanding their financial and political influence across Africa. They are deliberately and aggressively targeting their investments in the region to gain a competitive advantage over the United States."

From 2016-2017, China's foreign direct investment toward Africa totaled $6.4bn dollars, he said, adding that over the past several years, China has devoted considerable state-directed and state-supported financing to projects in the region.

"China uses bribes, opaque agreements, and the strategic use of debt to hold states in Africa captive to Beijing's wishes and demands. Its investment ventures are riddled with corruption, and do not meet the same environmental or ethical standards as US  developmental programs."

He said these predatory actions "are sub-components of broader Chinese strategic initiatives, including 'One Belt, One Road' – a plan to develop a series of trade routes leading to and from China with the ultimate goal of advancing Chinese global dominance."

One example is soaring debt levels in Djibouti, most of which is owed to China, and whose Doraleh Container Terminal – a strategically-located shipping port on the Red Sea – may soon be handed over to Chinese state-owned enterprises.

"Should this occur, the balance of power in the Horn of Africa – astride major arteries of maritime trade between Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia – would shift in favour of China," Bolton warned.

Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) countries, particularly members of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), are widely regarded as the emerging sourcing base for US fashion companies, as they benefit from duty-free market access to the US and liberal rules of origin. According to the re:source by just-style sourcing tool, in 2017, US apparel imports under AGOA totalled US$1.0bn. It has also been suggested that the US-China trade war could accelerate Africa sourcing.

However, a recent article on just-style questioned the effectiveness of preference programmes such as AGOA as a tool for economic development: Here's why the used clothing trade deserves more attention.