Economic development leaders from Alabama recently returned from an extended trip to Africa as part of a forum that highlighted different business opportunities across sub-Saharan Africa.
The trip was organized by the U.S. Department of Commerce, with six businesses from Alabama joining in to meet with economic leaders.
Alabama Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield told the BBJ that he viewed the trade mission as a success because it opened the doors of opportunity with several fast-growing economies while also allowing state leaders to raise Alabama’s profile in the region.
“Commerce-led trade and business development missions like the one to Africa represent an opportunity for the Alabama team to spread the message that our state is a full participant in the global economy,” Canfield said.
“(The Department of Commerce) and its allies are committed to helping Alabama companies identify export markets and develop relationships with overseas businesses because that translates into new jobs back home.”
Alabama already has strong economic ties to South Africa, with exports – such as motor vehicles and chemicals – totaling $212 million in 2014.
”The trade relationship with South Africa, an economic powerhouse on the continent, will continue to grow because it’s seen as a promising market by Alabama exporters,” Canfield said.
Canfield also used the meeting with leaders from Tanzania to address concerns in the region.
“While our team was in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, I had a chance to meet with key government trade officials and urge them to vigorously address corruption and bureaucratic red-tape to clear a path to attract more foreign capital,” Canfield said.
“The Tanzanian government also needs to collaborate more fully with the private sector on meaningful reforms that will facilitate growth among small business enterprises.”
Tanzania, while promising, continues to lag in economic progress and activity in many sub-Saharan areas remains low – even with the growth that is currently taking place.
“Tanzania, for instance, has seen its GDP expand at a rate of 7 percent annually in recent years, but it remains an extremely poor nation. That won’t be changed overnight,” Canfield said.
Despite the small amount of trade between Alabama and Tanzania, Canfield said there are potential export markets for Alabama-made transportation equipment, machinery, chemicals, pharmaceutical products and other items.
“In many areas within this region, there is an expanding middle class and a growing demand for consumer goods – setting the stage for commercial opportunities,” Canfield said. “The potential is there for Alabama businesses to meet the rising demand for quality products in the continent’s rapidly expanding areas.”