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Africa could be a future major trade partner, officials say

Katie Tabeling
2023 Mid-Atlantic Summit, hosted by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition. Chris Coons. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING

U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del). starts a conversation about Africa’s potential as a United States trade partner in the future at the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition 2023 Mid-Atlantic Summit. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING

WILMINGTON — Weighing how international trade and diplomatic relations can spur innovation, Delaware companies and regional neighbors met on Monday at the Hotel du Pont for the 2023 Mid-Atlantic Summit.

Scores of political, nonprofit, trade and private sector gathered for discussion on how the United State’s development assistance not only strengthens national security but also creates business opportunities. The event was hosted by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, a nonprofit coalition of American businesses, senior national security and foreign policy experts and more  to promote increased support for diplomatic and development efforts.

Delaware in particular plays a role in the global economy with $4.7 billion in exported goods, provided by 2,174 companies in the state in 2020. Roughly 128,000 jobs supported by international trade in 2019. That reflects 21% of all jobs in the state. 

But while Delaware’s top export partners remain Canada, China and South Korea, panelists like  U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) stressed that now may be the time to introduce more trade relations to Africa, noting that it is one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

“The continent holds the promise of climate change, to public health and innovating solutions in IT and pharmaceuticals that could work for the entire world. It would be foolish to miss that opportunity,” Coons said. “Many other countries are competing to be the economic development partner of choice [with Africa].

Coons’ words came on the heels of President Joe Biden offering support for the African Union joining the G20, saying that “Africa belongs to the table in every room – in every room – where global challenges are being discussed.”

Kenya, in particular, represents 40% of Africa’s gross domestic product, and before the COVID-19 pandemic it was one of the fastest growing economies with an annual average growth of 5.9% between 2010 and 2018.

Kenya President William Ruto, who spoke via videoconference, outlined an ambitious plan for his country, leaning on its robust system of power sectors in sub-Saharan Africa with focuses on geothermal, wind and solar resources.

“There is a huge opportunity for green growth, resilience and industrialization. Kenya today has 93% of all our energy from renewable sources – and we can look at climate change and turn it into an opportunity,” Ruto said.

He also stressed that 65% of uncultivated land is in Africa, making a case for the continent to be a strong player in the agricultural space. Through innovations in science, irrigation and mechanization, the Kenyan president noted that Africans could have the opportunity to feed the rest of the world, with the right investment.

Kenya is also planning to heavily invest in telecommunications and broadband in the next five years, with plans to build data centers and product development centers for Google as well. 

Looking at global health issues, the United States Agency for International Development (U.S. AID) outlined three immediate priorities: making COVID-19 a manageable respiratory illness in the world, which is slowly becoming achievable due to vaccine donations, outbreak prevention, and finally, repairing the damage done to the global health system during the pandemic as well as severe weather events.

In the face of addressing global health challenges, Wilmington-based Prelude Therapeutics CEO and President Kris Vaddi highlighted public-private partnerships as a way to make an enormous impact. Taking cancer as an example, he noted that chemotherapies are cheap but hard to administer and not widely used in large parts of the world.

“The United States is leading the world in developing precision medicines, where you can go after cancer cells and spare normal cells as much as possible. The global part of that is that it’s scalable and can be more easily administered,” he said. 

U.S. Global Leadership Coalition 2023 Mid-Atlantic Summit, Kris Vaddi. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING

Prelude Therapeutics CEO and President Kris Vaddi, left, was optimistic that public-private partnerships could lead the way to fast-tracking therapies and treatments around the globe. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING

But another major challenge is what Vaddi called the “knowledge gap,” where other countries may not have the evidenced-based guidelines and recommendations from public institutions, and outdated industrial supply chains can also make it hard to reproduce treatments and medicines.

Notably, Africa imports most of its vaccines, producing only about 1% of what it needs.

“The COVID-19 pandemic forced private and public sectors to work even more together, and I do think there was a good roadmap of how to deploy treatments across the globe,” Vaddi added. “There’s a lot of learnings we can apply to as we build future relationships together.”

Looking at global crises, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan video called in for an hour-long conversation with Coons and former Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) on many topics, including the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon shot down over the Carolina coast on Sunday. Sullivan said the military waited to minimize harm to civilians and also to ensure the protection of any sensitive information it may have gathered.

While it was the first time any American president ordered the shooting down of such aircraft, Sullivan confirmed reports that other Chinese surveillance balloons had traveled in U.S. airspace during the Trump administration as well.

“One thing the president directed the intelligence community to do early in his tenure was to increase both our vigilance and the assets that we were deploying, to be able to detect Chinese efforts to spy against the United States through multiple different means,” Sullivan said. 

“It just goes to show you that in order to effectively protect the interests of the United States, you’ve got to have a full spectrum, allocation of assets, resources and priorities, to be able first to detect when things are hot,” he added.

Coons believed that the symbolic message was important to deliver to China, but also acknowledged the balancing act of managing business with the country as well.

“Both economies are deeply integrated, and when we work together to confront the global pandemic and climate change, in some ways more important than ever. But when hostile acts are occurring is the real challenge to us,” Coons said.

However, Portman wished the balloon was taken down earlier and that Secretary of State Antony Blinken made his scheduled visit to Beijing, hoping to avoid conflict by maintaining relations.

“I think that dialogue with China is incredibly important right now. My biggest concern in China is miscommunication,” he said. “We have many areas we need to talk through Tibet, misinformation, military aggression and my concern is that we’re not talking enough to China to avoid the possibility of miscommunication that could have disastrous consequences.”

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