Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told participants in the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) forum that the African continent is in a strong position to build on the stability andeconomic growth it has achieved over the last decade, and she urged them to encourage greater prosperity by creating environments in which business can thrive.
Speaking at the closing session of the AGOA ministerial forum in Lusaka, Zambia, June 10, Clinton said there is no reason that African countries cannot be more competitive on the global economic stage.
She urged AGOA participants to raise awareness of the program, which allows many African exports to enter the U.S. duty-free, so that more will take advantage of its benefits. She also urged the creation of conditions that will help support business and entrepreneurship.
"A shipping company cannot thrive if it is overburdened by government regulations and is drowning in paperwork," she said. "Buyers and sellers can't do business if they are harassed by corrupt officials."
The secretary said corruption takes a huge toll on everyone. "Every bribe paid to a customs official represents a hidden tax on the cost of doing business and a drag on economic growth."
Clinton also called for more women to be connected to their country's economic growth by making it easier for them to run their own business. There is overwhelming evidence that "small and medium-sized enterprises run by women are major drivers of economic growth," she said.
But in too many places, it is still too difficult for a woman to start a business, Clinton said.
"Cultural traditions may discourage her from handling money or managing employees. Complex regulations may make it hard for her to buy land or keep land or get a loan. She had to balance the needs of her own family and somehow overcome all of these barriers," Clinton said.
These barriers can disappear as more and more people realize that the disenfranchisement of half of the population is causing their countries to lose out on opportunities for economic growth, she said.
The secretary announced that the United States will contribute $2 million to the African Women's Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP). The program is working to increase opportunities for women to participate in AGOA and provides training on business topics, including how to obtain financing.
Before speaking at the AGOA forum, Clinton visited AWEP participants in Lusaka and said their entrepreneurship will raise incomes and standards of living acrossAfrica.
"Business is not an end in itself, it is a means to an end, to be able to educate children, to be able to have a better home, to be able to provide health care, to build economies and create more opportunities. And you are living examples of that," the secretary said.
At the AGOA forum, Clinton said the Obama administration is taking the new approach of "partnership, not patronage" for U.S.assistance, and that aid programs are ultimately aimed at "helping developing countries chart their own futures, and frankly end the need for aid at all."
"It starts from the belief that the most successful development efforts will someday put themselves out of business because there will be so much economic activity, there will be such strong democratic institutions, that people will be able to generate their own opportunities," Clinton said.
Improved prosperity will enhance stability, the secretary said, and the United States will benefit from "having a world that is safer and more prosperous."
Partnership with the United States will empower people and make a difference they can see in their lives, she said.
There are other countries that will sign a contract or build in a country, but they do nothing to improve worker skills or enable small businesses to develop, Clinton said. Ultimately, that type of investment does not leave "anything sustainable behind other than perhaps a physical structure."
"Africa does not lack in physical structures," Clinton said. Africa needs infrastructure, greater integration between its countries and investment.
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