Clinton\'s visit is another sign of growing interest in African economies
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will push for expanded trade with Africa on Friday at talks on boosting exports from the continent where China has become the top commercial power
Her arrival Friday afternoon raises the profile of the annual US trade talks with Africa, where 1,600 government officials, business leaders and activists from 31 countries began meeting on Thursday.
Her visit is another sign of growing interest in African economies, which the International Monetary Fund expects to grow faster than the global average in the coming years.
Six of the world\'s 10 fastest-growing economies were in Africa last year, and the African Development Bank has signalled the rise of a middle class of more than 300 million people on the continent.
\"The United States is committed to promoting Africa\'s economic growth through trade,\" US Trade Representative Ron Kirk told the delegates.
\"The challenge for all of us -- Africans and Americans alike -- is to work together to get it right, so that all of our peoples can compete globally and reap the benefits of trade more widely on both continents.\"
The focus of the meeting is the African Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA), an 11-year-old American law that grants 37 African nations duty-free access to the US market, if beneficiaries meet basic standards of democracy and free markets.
A handful of countries like Somalia, Sudan and Zimbabwe are excluded because of conflicts, coups or political turmoil, but the terms are broad enough to encompass most of the continent.
African exports to the United States have increased more than tenfold since the law took effect, but oil products account for the bulk of that trade, mainly from Nigeria and Angola.
While exports of manufactured goods have also increased, those products mostly come from regional powerhouse South Africa, with the rest of the continent dividing the tiny remainder.
The talks in Lusaka will look for ways to boost exports of apparel, footwear, processed agricultural goods, and other manufactured products from around the region.
One provision of the law, which allows many countries to export clothing made from imported fabrics, has ironically helped the growth of Chinese-owned factories in countries like Swaziland.
China is now the biggest trading partner and the biggest investor in Africa, whose trade with the Asian giant jumped more than 40 percent last year, compared with an 18 percent increase with the United States.
\"Generally speaking, I think the Chinese have been more aggressive in terms of trade into the region. The trade that has been there between the US and Africa, it\'s long term,\" said Mupelwa Sichilima, of Trade and Industrial Policy Strategies, a South African think-tank.
Some African nations have leaned toward China because Beijing makes no demands on human rights or democracy.
But Sichilima said that in practice, other restrictions hinder African trade with both the United States and China -- mainly practical considerations like safety standards for food products.
\"Even though the markets are open, most exporters cannot meet the stringent rules that are required both in AGOA and also in China,\" he said.
\"China is just an alternative market that has come on board, but it doesn\'t mean it will swallow everything from Africa.\"
The US trade talks come ahead of a free trade summit Sunday in Johannesburg, where 26 African nations will launch negotiations to pull down barriers in countries stretching from the Cape to Cairo.