When Janet Nkubana started her handicraft business, Gahaya Links, in the mid-1990s, she dreamed of empowering fellow Rwandan women though fair trade. Two decades later, that dream has become a reality: Gahaya Links employs more than 4,000 Rwandans and sells products to major international retailers, including Macy’s Inc.
Nkubana, her company and her employees are among beneficiaries of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a U.S. law that allows for freer trade between America and Africa. Sixteen years after that law took effect, two-way trade between the U.S. and Africa was valued at nearly $50 billion in 2016 — a $10 billion increase since 2000.
“Our trade relationship is vital to the security and stability of both the United States and Africa,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in June 2017. The U.S. relationship with Africa “has to continue its transition from being ‘aid-based’ to ‘trade-based,’” he said.
Here’s a look at some of the business sectors benefiting from improved U.S.-African trade.
U.S. agricultural exports to Africa reached $2.3 billion in 2014, a 20 percent increase from 2009. Sub-Saharan Africa has long been the top destination for U.S. wheat exports, and in 2014, that region also was the third-largest market for U.S. poultry. Meanwhile, African agriculture exports to the U.S. have more than quadrupled, due largely to AGOA, according to the Brookings Institution in Washington.
Ethiopian Airlines purchased four 777-series freighter aircraft from U.S. manufacturer Boeing Company in November 2017 and has more on order. These Boeing purchases helped increase direct Africa-U.S. flights, including the 2016 launch of an Ethiopian Airlines flight from Lome, Togo, to Newark, New Jersey. Boeing also sold airplanes to EgyptAir, South African Airways, and Royal Air Maroc. Over the next two decades, the top 10 fastest-growing markets for air travel will be in Africa, the International Air Transport Association said in 2016.
Lesotho’s once-tiny apparel industry has grown into the country’s largest private-sector employer, generating an estimated 35,000 jobs since 2001, most of them held by women. Likewise, clothing operations have grown in Ghana, Ethiopia and Kenya, a byproduct of freer trade between the U.S. and Africa.
African coffee farmers help keep mugs brimming with java for the nearly two-thirds of Americans who drink coffee daily. Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda top the list of African coffee exporters to the U.S. Beans from Burundi, Malawi and Rwanda are among those served in coffee chain Starbucks’ high-end Reserve line.
African-caught fish now appear on U.S. supermarket shelves due, in large part, to the 2012 purchase of a Senegalese fish processing firm by Dongwon Industries, the South Korean company that owns U.S.-based StarKist Tuna. African countries like Cabo Verde and Seychelles also see potential for tuna exports.
African-made fashion exports to the United States include products from American brands like Kate Spade, which partners with a women’s cooperative in Rwanda, and African-owned companies like Sseko, a Ugandan firm that makes sandals and necklaces like the one pictured above. Sseko also helps Ugandan girls raise funds to attend university.
A version of this article was published on July 19, 2017.