Challenge to Minority Businesses: Are You Ready for Africa?

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RasoolSouth Africa’s ambassador to the United States is challenging minority-owned business enterprises to bury pessimism about Africa and take advantage of the continent’s tremendous opportunities.

“If you are ready for Africa, Africa is ready for you…Our invitation to you is to trade, to invest, to tour.  There is money to be made in Africa,” Ebrahim Rasool told attendees at this year’s Minority Enterprise Development Week Conference, in Washington, D.C. “South Africa’s successful hosting of the FIFA 2010 Soccer World Cup…swept away the waves of Afro-pessimism [and] opened a window on South Africa and Africa that made the world see us with fresh eyes.”

He urged MBEs to consider the following:

1. Africa’s economic growth rate as a continent exceeded 5 percent last year, in the midst of a global recession, and is two to three times faster than that of the two dozen or so leading industrialized countries;

2. Central Africa’s oil boom spurred a 14.4 percent growth for that region;

3. Ghana’s stock exchange is regularly one of the world’s highest performing bourses;

4. In 2008, Africa’s households spent a combined US$ 860 billion, more than is spent in India or Russia, and the figure is set to reach $1.4 trillion by 2020; and

5. Regional integration in Southern Africa through the Southern Africa Development Community Free Trade Agreement has created a regional market worth $360 billion, with a population of 170 million.  Those numbers will increase by $71 billion and 77 million, respectively, when Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo sign on to the agreement, a move expected “soon.” Huge duty-free markets also will be created across Africa when free trade agreements take effect through the Economic Community of West African Sates, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa and the East African Community. 

“Already the cost and ease of doing business is improving with lower trade barriers, and the regulatory environment is more coordinated and predictable and less discretionary and cumbersome,” Ambassador Rasool said.

The annual MED Week conference, hosted by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency and held from Aug. 23-27 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, brings together some 1,500 minority-owned business enterprises, government officials and corporate representatives to partake in educational, training and business-to-business networking sessions aimed at helping MBEs to grow domestically and globally.

Citing the goals of President Barack Obama’s National Export Initiative to double exports over the next five years and create two million related jobs, MBDA National Director David Hinson focused this year’s conference on international trade, specifically export opportunities and export training for MBEs. The week’s events included a series of “embassy nights” at which officials from the embassies of China, South Africa and other countries, as well as delegates who traveled from those countries to attend MED Week, spoke of economic and business opportunities in their countries.
 
“Our research shows that minority owned and operated firms are twice as likely to export than non-minority owned and operated firms, so we believe that, unlike any other time, we have a tremendous opportunity to take advantage of the global economy,” Hinson said, noting that 95 percent of the world’s consumers are outside of the United States.

A new feature at this year’s MED WEEK was a U.S. Small Business Administration matchmaking program similar to its mentor protégé program in which small firms are paired with larger firms for mentorship and help in landing government contracts.
SBA Administrator Karen Mills said the program ensured that minority owned firms had the necessary advice and counseling to obtain capital and start exporting to places like China and India and Latin America.

“America’s minority owned firms have products and services that people in other countries want and our job is to make sure that they can help us meet the goal of doubling America’s exports over the next five years,” she said.
 
In his remarks, Ambassador Rasool stressed that Africa offers enormous opportunities in the downstream development of the continent’s resources; in the creation of critical infrastructure like roads, railways, ports and utilities; and in the burgeoning consumer market through merchandise exports.

“There is the incredible incentive to take advantage of the substantially duty-free access to markets in Southern Africa and soon across Africa. There is a world of partnerships and joint ventures to share risks and gains with in the 20 homegrown African companies, each with revenues of at least $3 billion. And there is the comfort of a continent embracing democracy, the rule of law, and economic development as the only sustainable ways to overcome our legacy of poverty and underdevelopment,” he said.