4 facts about US-African trade relations

Cape Town - Barack Obama claimed this week that the US doesn’t see Africa as a vast petrol pump, but as “a good partner, an equal partner, and a partner for the long term”. But how equal is our partnership? News24 finds out.

Obama made a huge push for US-African relations, meeting with more African leaders than any other US president at a summit in Washington on Tuesday, and drawing on his roots as “the son of man from Africa”.

The US president said he wanted to build a partnership that would “unleash the next era of African growth”.

“I want Africans buying more American products and I want Americans buying more African products,” he said.

But the President warned that there was a lot of work to do, telling leaders: “We have to do better - much better.”

Let’s take a look at the facts:

We’re going to have to sell a lot more nuts

Obama claimed that the US doesn’t look to Africa “simply for its natural resources”.

He said: “We don’t simply want to extract minerals from the ground for our growth; we want to build genuine partnerships that create jobs and opportunity for all our peoples and that unleash the next era of African growth.”

It’s a nice idea - but there’s no getting round the fact that a massive 86% of African exports to the US are petroleum products, according to the Office of the US Trade Representative.

Crude oil exports to the US were worth $30.1bn last year.

Though it’s worth noting that oil exports actually dropped almost 40% during 2013 while agricultural exports jumped almost 30%.

In fact, non-oil exports to the US - such as clothing, footwear, vehicles, fruit and nuts - were worth $4.8bn in 2013, more than triple the amount than they were in 2001.

South Africa flies the flag for Africa as the supplier of more non-oil goods to the US than any other African nation.

Zuma’s chicken idea is a good start

At the centre of America’s commitment to business with Africa is the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) - a trade preference program that began in 2000.

Obama’s renewed commitment to Agoa this week was welcomed by President Jacob Zuma. That said, the headline: “SA offers chickens for Agoa renewal” might have led a few people to scratch their heads.

The story referred to Zuma’s offer to slash the import taxes on American chickens in return for keeping us in the lucrative Agoa trade scheme.

Why would he do that? Possibly because chickens are America’s second biggest agricultural export to sub-Saharan Africa - worth $513m.

But he could have done better

However, the amount of American chickens we gobble up is completely eclipsed by our thirst for other US goods.

Our favourite American products start with machinery - for which we paid $4.9bn last year - and is followed by vehicles at $3.6bn, oil at $3.5bn, aircraft at $1.3bn and cereals (wheat and rice) at $1.3bn.

Of all the African nations, we are the biggest buyers of American goods - accounting for a third of all US exports to Africa.

The top five destinations for US products in 2013 were: South Africa ($7.3bn), Nigeria ($6.5bn), Angola ($1.5bn), Ghana ($1.1bn), and Togo ($956m).

We are not equal partners

So America does quite well out of us. We buy more American products than any other African nation.

And we do quite well out them. Indeed the US is the second biggest buyer of South African goods - taking 8.3% of our exports in 2012 (China is our biggest buyer with 11.8%, according to the CIA World FactBook).

Plus, South African exports to the US have risen by 83% in the last decade, to $8.5bn in 2013.

But all things are not equal. While their trade is important to us, ours is less important to them.

The US is South Africa’s fourth biggest supplier of goods after China, Germany and Saudi Arabia.

Yet South Africa is the 39th largest supplier of goods to the US.

Obama himself admitted that the US buys more from Brazil than the whole of Africa.

In 2013, just 1.5% of the goods America bought from across the globe came from sub-Saharan Africa.

As the US president said, we have to do better, much better.