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.

“If there is some way, and there is a way, that we can control tourism, next to conferences and groups and conventions, then we literally can have a great impact on developing countries by focusing on those meetings over a period of 10 years rather than haphazardly doing it and not getting any recoup from our dollars coming into the city. With the conferences we have now, there is no return to the immediate Black community. There is no investment by hotels. There is no investment by organizations that are responsible for bringing tourism to Los Angeles. By us being involved in that kind of tourism, we can do it ourselves,” said Burks.

The African Marketplace executive director has been pushing a robust Black tourism agenda in Los Angeles for more than a decade.

“Initially I was trying to build the African Marketplace as a destination here in L.A. and part of that process is to use the years that we were doing the annual festival to attract more investment by African countries. Essentially building a permanent Pan-African World Trade Center to develop relationships with African American groups all over the U.S.

“Thousands of Black special-interest groups already have conferences every year, and we are asking them to come together. I work a lot in Brazil, with their government and hotels, to impact the Afro-Brazilian community. If all of them (the groups), decided that in the next 10 years that we would have one conference there, I can take that kind of package to the government of Brazil and say, ‘we want you to work with us by reducing the costs of airfare, ground transportation and other services so these groups feel welcome coming to your city. It’s a quid-pro-quo. Everyone benefits in that kind of a plan. All of these groups are doing the same thing, trying to exploit what we do have,” explained Burks.

Another opportunity stems from the fact that “there are no African banks here, and Africans benefit from other Africans in the Diaspora because of wire transfer or intermittent banking. Money is wired home to family and friends. People who were raised here and made money here (have gone back) home to build hospitals, schools, and housing. So, the benefit to Africa is there, but Africa never re-invests any portion of those dollars to help those who are sending money home, to be able to send more money home. We are at the mercy of all of the traditional banks here that we can’t control,” said Burks.

“We want to look at controlling intermittent banking. Why should we wire transfer money and 20 percent of it goes to MoneyGram, Western Union, and Citi Bank? We came close to being able to do that about six years ago. Jheryl Busby and I had gotten together, when he was involved in OneUnited Bank and we met with many of the African American leaders in Los Angeles to discuss the idea of encouraging Africans to put their money in one bank location.” That institution would then create relationships with Standard Bank in West Africa, and Standard Bank would agree to accept it on that end. But now, with the bank cards there are easier ways to do this. The idea is to control our resources in this country, and to rebuild inner city community. The way to do that, is to strengthen the global relationship we have with the African Diaspora,” contends Burks.

Trade finance through commercial banks and other financial institutions is an essential component of international trade. Commercial banks and trade credit insurance companies provide critical international trade financing, loan and insurance programs to reduce risk, cover transaction costs and insure payment for goods and services rendered. Traditional and innovative trade financing strategies can be used to finance trade and commerce between California, the African Diaspora and the nation states of Africa.

“At the conference we also proposed the restructuring of a California Initiative on Trade with Africa Commission, which would deal with recruiting and soliciting investment in California, particularly in the communities where Black populations live,” said Burks.

California State Senator Curren Price recently began an initiative to increase trade between California and Africa by convening the 26th Senatorial District Committee on Trade with Africa. The committee was established to enhance California’s role in global market development by promoting and facilitating opportunities to establish win-win trade development partnerships between Africa and California. The organization’s goal is to develop programs that initiate and facilitate international trade opportunities tailored to the interests and needs of both entities’ business communities.

According to the International Trade Centre, tourism is responsible for more than one in ten jobs globally. In many developing and transitioning economies, tourism has emerged as the dominant tool for economic growth. According to the World Tourism Organization, there will be one billion international travelers in 2010.

Business tourism is a fast-growing, lucrative market segment of this industry and is expected to be one of the hottest growth sectors of the travel industry in the years ahead, and can be utilized to develop trade missions, trade fairs, hotels and trade conferences that promote and facilitate bilateral trade and commerce and cultural exchange between California’s and Africa’s emerging economies.

Another panel discussion at the Dominguez event focused on career opportunities in international trade and commerce. The international trade industry has long held a paramount role in California’s regional economy. The industry is a huge, multifaceted and dynamic entity made up of a complex web of logistics companies, businesses, transport systems and infrastructure projects. There are more than 2,000 logistics companies and 3,500 transportation carriers that account for in excess 400,000 international trade related jobs. The panel highlighted strategies focused on developing employment and business resources within Los Angeles and the Southern California region to address current and future career opportunities in the market.

“Deep sea diving is absolutely an international opportunity for employment,” said Benetta Johnson, panel moderator and executive director of the Alameda Corridor Jobs Coalition. “We have lots of kids swimming at what used to be called Will Rogers State Park. You can see that Black and Latino kids love the water, but they do not understand or know that there is an opportunity to take that a step further. At Watts Labor Community Action Comittee (WLCAC), they even have an aquatic center, so there is a huge opportunity being missed there.”

Johnson continued, “There is a whole other set of career opportunities, when it comes to distribution centers. UPS, Target, Kmart, Wal-Mart, different commodities and industries all have distribution centers and most of them have more than one. They are not only local, but regional, and national. Those are also major employment opportunities. So my goal was (and still is) tracking those to see where they lead, and learning the different opportunities that are associated with them. That’s where all of your goods and services are, and I think these centers are an opportunity that have been missed. Anything that you wear, eat, drive or live in has an international component to it. All of these things are put together across the world,” explained Johnson.

“People talk about the jobs that are always going overseas and being outsourced, but they fail to realize that the jobs which are being outsourced are going to have partners here to make it work. They can’t be an island alone, there have to be components on both sides. So, every time a job goes overseas, there are going to be X number of jobs created here as well,” said Johnson.

“(The Obama) administration is only looking at the traditional employment opportunities. They are looking at the businesses to commit to hiring. They aren’t looking at international trade, not in the sense that we are looking at it. We see it from the ground up, and the opportunities on the ground are amazing,” said Johnson.

As a result of the conference, there are numerous projects that are currently being developed. “We were able to help one of the businesses that was at the conference close a deal, where they are going to be the construction manager for the project. It is a company called Sturdi-Quick International, which is headed up by an African American woman by the name of Mary Flowers. We were able to help them get a contract to essentially coordinate the development of the project and handle a procurement program providing opportunities for African American businesspeople to be involved in,” said Washington.

The Greater Port Harcourt City Development Authority (GPHCDA) is building a completely new city and California can provide many of the technological and tangible resources in areas such as electrical engineering and installation of security and alarm devices, mechanical and structural engineering, water and waste management resources, construction of buildings, housing development, road construction, horticulture and landscaping, architecture, health services, commercial and mortgage banking, public transportation, as well as education and social services.

“The project itself is a small city development in the Port Harcourt region in Riverstate. So, we are looking at having Mary bring a trade mission to that region some time next year, as well as continuing to work with them to obtain construction financing and to set up an investment program,” said Washington.

CASA Hotels LLC., a U.S.-based company, is planning to develop a new chain of limited-service, business-oriented hotel in South Africa as well as other select countries throughout the continent of Africa.

CASA has conducted extensive research on the African limited service hotel market and has concluded that what currently exists in the region are not well designed, offer small guest room accommodations, lack basic amenities and provide operating service far below acceptable international standards. According to CASA that void in the marketplace offers an excellent opportunity for an experienced hotel developer and operator such as to capitalize on the potential of developing a chain of well-designed hotels that would be operated with professional management.

The Vision for Restoration and Reunification Inc. (TVRR) is an agriculture development project that began as a humanitarian, short-term aid project after the company’s president Rev. Thomas Rodgers, visited Liberia in 1987. The project involved establishment of a transportation company and vegetable farm on purchased and leased land that would have been organized into communal farms. However, a subsequent internal conflict in Liberia interrupted efforts to develop the project.

Recent contact with the newly stabilized Liberian government indicates that TVRR can begin the operation of this project in Liberia by early 2011.

The Trend Media City, another project that was announced at the conference, will be located on a portion of land reclaimed from the Atlantic ocean near the city of Lagos, Nigeria. It is conceived as an international tourist hot spot as well as a business park, research center and information and communication technology development center.

The idea is to build an eco-friendly city of the future in Africa within a spectacular woodland environment that is a green-building technologies model for the rest of the world to follow.
“The Trend Media City project is still in its design stage. They have the land and have designed the project, but are still finalizing plans which will hopefully be available in the next three to six months,” said Washington.

Next year’s conference is tentatively set for August 2011. Washington, the conference organizer, is also working to secure a similar conference in Jackson, Mississippi.

Coke on a worldwide search for consumers

Bottler eyes Africa as a continent of great potential sales

By William Covington
OW Contributor

Two Kenyan police officers are sitting outside a tin-covered building that resembles a broken down garage painted in red and embossed with Coca-Cola emblems. They consume the beverage slowly as they discuss current issues in Nairobi while attempting to enjoy shade from the sun. Someone earlier may have tried to avoid the heat by rigging a red patio umbrella to a plastic red crate. All these items are embossed with Coca-Cola emblems. If the company’s current strategic marketing plan is successful, the continent of Africa will display more Coke red, according to Ahmet Bozer, president of Coca-Cola’s Eurasia and Africa Group. Bozer thinks Africa is the last great frontier.

Most of this speculation may be based on a recent McKinsey report (economic think-tank firm) that has monitored African household earnings since 2000, and reports that 59 million African households have earned a minimum of $5,000. This amount is significant; it’s the point when families on that continent will begin to consider half their income as surplus and begin to splurge on nonfood items. Analysts have been closely monitoring this microeconomic upswing from corporate offices in America, China, and other nations.

Coke sales have not increased in any developing countries and appear to be stagnant for now. Coke has been dependent on the international market as untapped prospects and a way to up its percentages of consumption. When we look at Coke’s former hot spots, consumption is low. For example, in China, which is always difficult to navigate. A recent article on beverage sales in Bloomberg Businessweek points out that in addition to the difficulty of doing business in China, the Chinese have their favorite national soft drink known as Wahaha. India’s population has a passion for Coke and Pepsi. Their culture has developed a pet name for Pepsi known as “Hindi.” Mexico consumes the most Coca-Cola (665 servings per person). The annual consumption in Kenya is 39 servings per person on average. This is why Coke sees the potential in Africa.
Coca-Cola has been in Africa since 1928, first being sold in South Africa. However, it’s popularity flourished throughout the continent, migrating north all the way to Tunisia by World War II. During the late ’50s the beverage had gained a firm foothold on the entire continent, with markets in Djibouti, Ethiopia and Mozambique. Eventually, by the 1970s, it was available in virtually all African markets, according to Muhtar Kent, 57, who heads the company from the 25th floor of Coke’s headquarters in Atlanta.

It appears accountants and distribution managers from Coke are walking beats in Kenya, training local shopkeepers on how to display their cold merchandise in a way their market specialists think will have Africans grabbing a bottle every day. They are provided a diagram and instructed to catch the customer’s eye. The Coke is placed on the upper level of the glass door fridge, followed by Fanta in the middle and larger bottles on the bottom. A Kenyan can purchase a bottle of Coke for about 37 cents and prefers to drink it at the place of purchase to prevent paying the costly bottle deposit.

Africans have been encouraged to promote Coke with value meals such as ndazi, an African doughnut that is often described as greasy. Coke provides red signs with the value meal pictured on them and are instructed to display them at the shopkeepers’ business establishments.