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Global trade conference opens doors for commerce with the Motherland

Juliana D. Norwood | 12/1/2010, 5 p.m.

In October, the Africa-USA Chamber of Commerce conducted a two-day Pan African Global Trade Conference at California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH), which, organizers said, was an important first step in connecting the United States, the African continent, and the African Diaspora in business and trade.

"The main thing we wanted to accomplish in this conference was to lay the foundation, not only for future conferences but for all of the things that we wanted to accomplish as a result of it," said Al Washington, conference co-organizer and executive director of the Africa-U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Industry. "The most significant thing that has occurred has been that the African Union Ambassador to the U.S. Amina Salum Ali is seriously looking at working with us to develop programs over the next year that will hopefully improve relations between the U.S. and Africa, and specifically focus on the linkages between the Diaspora and the continent.

"I have a meeting with Ali coming up in D.C. to talk about how that is going to be developed and hopefully will get a commitment that she will definitely be in attendance next year, and that she will help us get more participation from the continent itself.

"Another accomplishment is that (Cal State) Dominguez Hills has agreed to be the home for the conference, and we will therefore plan our activities from the campus, as part of their California African American Political and Economic Institute. We will be working with them to develop a number of programs, the first being an online course in international trade. We started planning it last week in collaboration with the business department, the African Studies Department and the College of Extended and International Education. The program will be open to individuals and small business owners."

Washington also identified two trade missions that are in the works-one to Ghana in May of next year in collaboration with the Africa Times Newspaper and another to the Ivory Coast in collaboration with their consul general located here in L.A. Washington is trying to put together a development team to go in and look at a small city development to bring some business opportunities to African American businesses that know construction management.

As part of the CSUDH conference attendees separated into panel discussions to focus on the different aspects of global trade and commerce between the Diaspora. One panel, which discussed a Pan African bilateral cultural exchange focused on the significant role the arts, culture, education, humanitarian assistance and entertainment play in international trade and commerce.

The export of arts and entertainment is big business on a local and global scale. Additionally, international student-exchange programs are major sources of funding for universities all over the world. Cultural exchange programs can be instrumental in promoting bilateral trade and commerce between California and the African Diaspora and the African continent.

"Tourism is the largest industry in the world, and if we can't control the manufacturing of products then we can at least control where we spend our dollars in terms of tourism," said James Burks, conference panelist and the executive director of the African Marketplace and cultural faire. "It's pretty much why the African Marketplace was developed here in Los Angeles-to encourage tourists to come into South L.A., where Black businesses are.