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Obama Says U.S. Exports Have Room To Run In Africa

President Obama speaks Tuesday at the U.S.-Africa Business Forum in Washington, D.C. "I want Africans buying more American products," he said.
Charles Dharapak
President Obama speaks Tuesday at the U.S.-Africa Business Forum in Washington, D.C. "I want Africans buying more American products," he said.

President Obama, speaking at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit on Tuesday, spotlighted $14 billion in new investments in Africa by U.S. companies involved in construction, technology and finance.

"The United States is determined to be a partner in Africa's success," Obama said. "I want Africans buying more American products. I want Americans buying more African products."

The White House says U.S. exports to Africa hit a record $50.2 billion in 2013, up 40 percent since 2009. These exports supported 250,000 U.S. jobs, according to the administration.

The three-day gathering, organized by the Obama administration, brought together leaders of nearly 50 African nations and almost 100 U.S. companies.

The new business deals Obama mentioned involve a $5 billion investment from Coca-Cola for production equipment; a $2 billion investment from General Electric for a range of projects; $200 million in investments in hotels by Marriott International; and a $66 million commitment from IBM to provide Ghana's Fidelity Bank with technology services.

But while Obama's visit marked the day's high point, other speakers did star turns too.

Former President Bill Clinton, who moderated charmed the African leaders, telling them their nations "are a very important part of our future."

The African continent has roughly 200 million people between the ages of 15 and 24. Clinton said those young people represent a "massive opportunity for American business."

One of the panelists, Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon, agreed, saying the retail giant is eager to embed itself in Africa's economy, so long as the rule of law is enforced.

He said he's hopeful that African nations "are going to do the right things to create the right rules, create transparency, some of those infrastructure investments so that the whole thing works."

Here are highlights of speakers and panelists who chatted with journalists:

  • Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, co-hosted events related to the summit. Bloomberg, a longtime supporter of gay rights, was asked whether he could do something to change the laws that criminalize homosexual relations in dozens of African countries. He said no, "it's not our job" to change others' laws.
  • Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson said his company plans to have 150 hotels operating in 16 African countries by 2020. Asked whether the current Ebola outbreak might hurt travel to Africa, he said its impact would be limited geographically, and the problem would likely be resolved before the hotels open.
  • Secretary of State John Kerry talked up efforts to generate energy in Africa in environmentally sound ways. "Africa could be a clean-energy beacon for the world," he said.
  • Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Marilyn Geewax is a contributor to NPR.