Trade with Southern Africa grows

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Two-way agricultural trade between the United States and countries in Southern Africa reached a record $1.5 billion last year, according to most recent international ag trade report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Foreign Agricultural Service defines the Southern Africa region as the countries of Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, eSwatini, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The region is home to 167 million people.

“South Africa is sort of the entry point, an anchor, for a lot of Africa,” said Ted McKinney, undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs at USDA.

McKinney recently visited the region during an agriculture trade mission.

“Every journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. Although we’re doing trade here, we’re going to take a more pronounced step, which we’re going to follow with another step, and another step. Although it’s relatively small, we see enormous potential.”

Feeding The Future

Estimates show that more than 9 billion people will inhabit Earth by 2050.

McKinney said a large percentage of that growth will come from Africa.

As more African families enter the middle class, there will be a higher demand for protein and nutritious food, he said.

He believes that reforms to minimize, reduce or eliminate corruption will play a key role in future trade deals.

“To be sure, it is not easy to do business in South Africa with many of our products,” he said.

“That’s the purpose of coming here. Looking our friends in the eye and say we are seeking free, fair, reciprocal trade.

“There are still a number of products that are imported with relative ease. We’re just trying to make that common, across the board, for all products.”

For the last five years, poultry meat and products — excluding eggs — have topped the list of U.S. agricultural exports to Southern Africa.

 Trade Barriers

In 2017, the United States provided only 4 percent of Southern Africa’s agricultural imports.

Preferential and free trade agreements exist between Southern Africa and the European Union, as well as other African countries, according to the report.

The United States does not have a free trade agreement with the region.

“The barriers can be buried,” said McKinney. “Lots of times, it’s just a capacity problem. There aren’t enough people to handle the growing amount of trade.

“Sometimes it’s miscommunication … It’s two people coming to the middle to make sure we have free flowing trade, and always an assurance of good quality.

“More than halfway to get to a win for both parties is simply showing up. And we’re showing up.”