Media Center



April 18, 2013 - Washington, DC

The Honourable Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Prime Minister of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago

H.E. Sindoso Ngwenya, Secretary General of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA)

Ambassador Albert Ramdin, Assistant Secretary General, Organization of American States

Mr. Tom K. Alweendo, Director General of the National Planning Commission of Namibia

Distinguished representatives of governments of Africa and the Americas,
Representatives of other regional organizations, panelists and the business community from the two continents

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is with great honor that I welcome you to the House of the Americas on the occasion of the First Americas-Africa Business Forum. I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude and appreciation to the organizers of this event, in particular to my colleague the Assistant Secretary General of the OAS, Albert Ramdin; to H.E. Neil Persan, Ambassador of Trinidad and Tobago to the OAS; to the Corporate Council on Africa and the Africa Society for their leadership in organizing this Forum.

This may be the first time the OAS holds such a Forum in its Headquarters but we have been pursuing a closer relationship with Africa for quite some time. Over five years ago we began a highly successful exchange with the “Democracy Bridge Forum” held in these premises and I had the chance to address the African Union in Addis Ababa in 2011 to discuss the “Challenges and Opportunities in the Promotion and Defense of Democracy and Human Rights in Africa and the Americas”.

The OAS has had the privilege to send a team of electoral observers to the Legislative elections in Angola in 2008 and the Presidential election in Togo in 2010 as well as enabling an exchange of African observers in the elections in Colombia in 2007 and in Haiti in 2010-11 allowing us to extend our mutual cooperation. The OAS also facilitated the participation of representatives of the Africa Union at the annual meeting of the Association of Caribbean Electoral Organizations in 2008.

Today, we are gathered here to deepen those relations, to foster those exchanges between two regions of the world that have a tremendous amount of experience to share, and to intensify collaboration in a vast array of topics, as many of the challenges that both regions face are strikingly common to many of our countries.

This Forum is therefore timely for many reasons: the political–institutional venues that we traced are giving way to a business and private sector approach that will complement and enhance that exchange to the fullest of its capacity.

The other reason why this Forum is so timely has to do with the significance of Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean in the world stage. We are witnessing one of the biggest historical shifts of economic power taking place before our eyes. The world’s economic prospects are increasingly dependent on the fate of the South. The developing world provides already more than 50% of global economic growth and 40% of global investment. Its contribution to global investment growth is more than 70 percent. The US, European, and Japanese share of global income is projected to fall from 56 percent today to well under half by 2030.

The African continent has been the second-fastest growing region in the world for the past decade, just behind emerging Asia. The acceleration in Africa’s growth, which averaged 5% per year during the last 10 years, reflects significant improvements in the macroeconomic landscape, political stability, and the business environment of the region.

The benefits of economic growth have reached many of Africa’s people. Poverty has been falling. The number of households in extreme poverty fell from 42% in 1990 to 32% in 2006. Around 90 million African households had joined the world’s consuming class by 2011 –an increase of 31 million households in barely over a decade.

In the Americas, for the first time in its history, Latin America achieved during the past decade a combination of high growth, macroeconomic stability, poverty reduction and improvement in income distribution. This has resulted so far in more than 50 million people escaping poverty. According to the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), poverty in the region has fallen significantly from 43.9% in 2002 to 28.8% in 2012. For the first time, the number of people in poverty in Latin America is now equal to the size of the middle class.

Despite their growing economic influence, developing countries will face their own challenges in their efforts to continue the positive trend behind their rapid economic growth

Trade and investment among our two regions is growing. For example, trade between Brazil and Africa climbed from around $4.2 billion in 2000 to about $27.6 billion in 2011. Since 1990 trade between Brazil and Africa has registered impressive growth rates of 16% per year. Large and smaller Brazilian firms alike are active in Africa. Brazilian private investment also has a strong presence in the region. I am sure we will hear more on this in the Odebretch and Vale presentation later today.

Their presence certainly goes well beyond the commercial interests; we cannot stress enough the common cultural roots with Africa. The fact that the majority of Brazil’s population is of Afro-Brazilian origin, inherently reinforces the cultural bonds.

Our region is home to 150 million afro descendants, constituting roughly 30% of the population in the Americas. We know that this diversity is a strength; it is a rich heritage that has helped us shape who we are, a heritage that continues to shape us to this day through the different languages and cultures that thrive in the Americas, .

Latin America and the Caribbean on one side and Africa on the other have an economic potential that is widely acknowledged by the business community. One of the advantages that we can foresee in this engagement between the two continents may be the positioning of many countries of this region as true partners for development, rather than savvy entrepreneurs.

Indeed, our region is familiar with the development challenges faced by many African countries. South-South cooperation is not a vain concept but a reality in which projects are based on tangible country development experiences.

This new partnership underlines the fact that countries from both side of the Atlantic share common development challenges. There is a vast know-how experience in a range of policy fields, especially in poverty reduction, healthcare, energy and rural development. The conditional cash transfer program, which originated in Mexico, Brazil and other countries, is an example of this kind of collaboration that we must increase.

The Africa-South America Summits process symbolizes this rapprochement between the two continents where countries tended to look towards the North in seeking deeper relations, and now try to foster meaningful relations with their developing sister nations as well.

Other countries of our hemisphere are deepening their ties with Africa. The United States has made promoting economic growth, trade and investment and strengthening democratic institutions as the main priorities of its new “U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa,” launched in June 2012. The U.S. Administration has also pledged to work with Congress to extend the uni¬lateral preferences under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) beyond 2015.

In Canada, the country is engaged in a process to expand its trade and investment ties in sub-Saharan Africa. The Minister of International Trade’s first trade mission in 2013 took place in Nigeria and Ghana. Canada has also recently concluded numerous investment treaties with African nations. And not to be forgotten, the Caribbean nations are also enhancing their presence in and seeking greater trade opportunities with Africa. The fact that this Forum is graced with the presence of the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago and organized jointly by the OAS with that country’s government is a clear demonstration of this fact.

There is a newfound sense of optimism in the Americas and in Africa alike. While it is true that both regions face a number of ongoing challenges which we must tackle, our two continents have a chance to achieve transformative growth that is widely shared and inclusive. It is now up to our leaders in the public and private sectors to seize this opportunity. Let’s do that together.

Thank you very much.