Obama: Africa needs business before handouts
Less aid, more business is US President Barack Obama’s mantra to Africa on his tour that stopped in Cape Town yesterday.
Jack Hillmeyer, spokesperson for the US embassy in Pretoria, told The New Age that a key goal of Obama’s trip was to cement business relations.
“We believe the best form of development is private. It’s more effective. It’s better than giving aid… Africans don’t need handouts. We prefer business,” said Hillmeyer.
He said Obama’s “huge circus” included “hundreds of people”. Obama was scheduled to arrive in Cape Town by private plane by noon yesterday. His schedule included a trip to Robben Island for a “private tour”.
Hillmeyer said Michelle’s mother and cousin were accompanying the family.
“The First Lady (Michelle) wanted to go there on her first visit but didn’t because of bad weather. The president said he wanted to take his daughters there to tell them the story of Mandela,” said Hillmeyer.
Obama’s next stop was a visit to a health centre in Masiphumelele township in Ocean View to meet Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The aim here was to review work done in the country’s fight against HIV and Aids.
“They were meant to discuss health issues. The meeting will highlight the importance of community activism. President Obama was a community organiser so he understands the importance of activism,” said Hillmeyer.
The US government has spent US$3,7-billion on South African HIV and Aids programmes over the past ten years, said Hillmeyer. But this was undergoing a “transition” with less funding for programmes being made available.
Hillmeyer said Obama’s speech at the University of Cape Town was meant to be his “major address on his African trip”.
Obama has throughout his trip in South Africa paid tribute to former president Nelson Mandela.
Hillmeyer said Obama’s UCT address was meant to “tie into (former US attorney-general) Robert F Kennedy’s ‘ripples of hope’ speech at UCT 57 years ago”.
Obama would keep his eyes on the prize though and promote trade between Africa and the US.
“He has brought with him US trade representatives… The US government has a programme called Doing Business in Africa. It is encouraging US businessmen to come to Africa for business,” said Hillmeyer.
He said the US passed the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act under Bill Clinton’s administration. It was “up for review in 2015”. It enables “eligible African countries to export goods duty free to the US”.
Hillmeyer said at least there were at least 600 US companies based in South Africa, creating 120,000 jobs for locals.
Michael Bagraim, from the Cape Town Chamber of Commerce, said Obama’s visit was a “watershed… the opening of a door”. He said Obama was scheduled to meet captains of the local manufacturing industry in Cape Town.
“We will be putting together a dossier to outline how we would like to see investment working in South Africa. We would like the US business community to import finished goods as opposed to just primary goods from us,” said Bagraim.
“We need to move into the next phase of our economy. We have lived over the last 200 years by just exporting raw materials. We are not just the gold, diamonds or raw material exporters. When we export diamonds we want to export it polished and in a ring.”
Bagraim said the chamber wanted “import tax to be dropped on those goods when they go off to America”.
“Dropping taxes means it’s easier for us to export. We can get in better goods than the Far East.”
He added: “We are in contact with the American Chamber of Commerce. We will follow up with it as to how to benefit from Obama’s visit. They have told us that they want to strengthen business ties. We are going to pursue various agreements with the chamber.”
Bagraim said Obama’s “made it clear that the US is not supporting the import of Chinese goods”.
“He has hinted that we shouldn’t be doing business with people who merely bring in finished goods into South Africa and take out primary materials. We want to change the nature of it,” said Bagraim.