President Barack Obama today will announce more than $14 billion in investments in Africa by U.S. companies as the administration seeks to bolster trade ties with the rapidly growing continent that is already being courted by China.
Obama will deliver remarks at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, the first of its kind and the largest event any U.S. president has held with African heads of state and government. China and Japan have held similar events for years.
The White House says the businesses include construction, clean energy, banking, and information technology.
"These investments will deepen U.S. economic engagement in Africa, fueling growth that will support broader African prosperity and emerging markets for US businesses, which will support jobs in both the United States and Africa," a White House official said.
Obama's remarks will come at a U.S.–Africa Business Forum, hosted by the Department of Commerce and Bloomberg Philanthropies. Obama will also participate in a discussion with CEOs and government leaders at the forum. He and first lady Michelle Obama will host the leaders at a White House dinner tonight. Singer Lionel Richie will perform.
Former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who founded Bloomberg Philanthropies, opened the business event Tuesday, calling Africa "today's biggest market opportunity." He noted the continent boasts six of the world's 10 fastest growing countries and a rapidly expanding consumer class.
"Africa is no longer emerging, it is here now," Bloomberg said.
Other nations are already deeply engaged on the continent, Bloomberg said, adding "I realize we have some catching up to do. We have let Europe and China go faster than the U.S."
He suggested there remained a "disconnect" in the United States over the perception of Africa, versus the reality.
But he warned, that "countries and companies that ignore Africa do so at their own peril."
Former President Bill Clinton, who moderated a morning session on business in Africa, said the U.S. is playing catch up.
"It strikes me we're missing the boat," Clinton said.
General Electric chairman Jeff Immelt, chairman of General Electric, said the U.S. "conceded" African business "to the Europeans first, to the Chinese later."
But, he said that given the continuing growth on the continent, "today it's wide open for us."
He warned against Republican opposition to shuttering the Export-Import Bank, saying it would harm U.S. companies interested in working in Africa.
"The fact that we have to sit here and argue for it is just wrong," Immelt said.