As Obama meets leaders in Washington, 7 startling facts you didn't know about US-Africa trade

Yes, America buys cars from the continent, but has cut oil imports by a record 90% over recent years!

AFRICAN presidents are huddled in Washington DC with President Barack Obama at the first US-Africa summit, as the US joins the ranks of China, Japan, France and the European Union in wooing the continent’s big men at similar summits.

With 50 heads of state attending, Obama is not scheduled to have one-on-one talks with any president in particular, with no “singling out individuals at the expense of the other leaders; so that way [President Obama] can commit his time to broad engagement.” It’s expected to be largely a loose, informal meeting doused in liberal doses of camaraderie, in keeping with Obama’s famous dress-down approach to governance.

But even as some leaders are miffed at not having face time with Obama, the facts on the ground show that the vast majority of African countries, truth be told, are merely “escorting” others to the meeting—the bulk of US trade with Africa is confined to just a handful of countries. Here are some startling facts about US-Africa trade, and comparisons:

1. South Africa and Nigeria are the top recipients of US foreign direct investment (FDI) flows in the region. Nigeria (37%) leads, followed by South Africa (17%) and Mauritius (16%).

2. Thirty per cent of US exports to sub-Saharan Africa went to South Africa in 2013; the top U.S. export markets in sub-Saharan Africa for 2013 were South Africa ($7.3 billion), Nigeria ($6.5 billion), Angola ($1.5 billion), Ghana ($1.1 billion), and Togo ($956 million).

3. For imports, 30% of US imports from sub-Saharan Africa were from Nigeria and 22% from Angola, mostly crude oil. Nigeria’s clout on the continent is clear—one of the side events of the summit is a grand banquet in honour of its president Goodluck Jonathan.

4. Even so, it seems that US demand for African oil is drying up—since 2010, the US has cut the amount of oil it imports from Africa by a drastic 90%, from about two million barrels a day to just 170,000, as it increasingly exploits its shale oil reserves. But intriguingly, oil and commodities aren’t the only things the US is buying from Africa. South Africa exports vehicles the US worth $2.3 billion—the US’ third biggest import from Africa after oil and precious stones.

5. Still, Africa trade is still a very tiny blip on the US radar; sub-Saharan Africa makes up just 1.7% of total US imports and 1.5% of total exports.

6. If Nigeria is excluded, the GDP of the rest of sub- Saharan Africa, at $1.07 trillion, does not even measure up to the GDP of just New York City, which was $1.3 trillion in 2013.

7. Amadou Sy, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Africa Growth Initiative, contrasts it even sharper, noting that the gross domestic product (GDP) for all of Kenya – the largest economy in the East African Community (EAC) - is smaller than the size of the economy in Madison, Wisconsin—a city of just 240,000, while the amount of electricity used on game night at the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium is equal to that consumed nationwide in Liberia.


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