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Booming China-Africa trade, a real wakeup call for U.S. to take Africa seriously

By Ntandoyenkosi Ncube (Xinhua)

10:04, June 30, 2013

JOHANNESBURG, June 29 (Xinhua) -- The visit by the U.S. President Barack Obama to Africa is not aimed at countering the Chinese influence in the continent but rather to seek a foothold, an expert on U.S.-Africa relations told Xinhua.

The United States and China need to complement each other and work together to develop Africa, said Scott Firsing, head of International Studies at Monash University in South Africa.

More China-U.S. collaboration and cooperation is crucial in help Africa develop education and skills which are vital to economic growth, Firsing said.

"Because of Africa's demographics and their need for skills, education, and training, the issue of youth leadership is absolutely vital. Both Washington and Beijing undoubtedly agree with this," Firsing said before Obama arrived in South Africa Friday evening.

"China has also sent thousands of doctors and teachers to work in Africa, and Africans have gone to study in China. This is exactly the same regarding the United States."

"This makes it clear that more collaboration and cooperation in this regard just makes common sense," Firsing said.

He said the sheer pace and magnitude of increased Chinese- Africa trade relations was a real wakeup call for the United States to take Africa more seriously. And it wouldn't make sense for Washington not to be "involved in Africa right now, both politically and economically."

According to the expert, China for the past three decades have been investing in Africa and increasing its bilateral and trade relationship with African governments, It has played a fundamental role in helping Africa achieve social betterment, economic growth and development, especially in the infrastructure sector.

According to Firsing, in 2012 China's trade with African was almost double that of America and this made the White House realize that it is missing opportunities in Africa.

"These opportunities won't last forever," he noted.

The United States are trying to ensure that the White House's new strategy for sub-Saharan Africa remains relevant, he said.

Firsing, a founder of the African NGO Young People in International Affairs, said Pretoria is expecting more from Obama' s historic visit.

South Africa will be looking for some assurances from Obama that African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) will be extended, he said.

"Close to 98 percent of all South Africa exports enter the United States under the AGOA arrangement."

And there are other more specific reasons such as the U.S.- South African "strategic dialogue", which is a bilateral arrangement to discuss wide ranging issues from multilateral diplomacy and trade and investment, Firsing said.

South Africa is an important trade, investment, tourism and technology partner to the United States, with around 600 American companies operating in the country," and Pretoria will be looking for more investment from America as well as from U.S. companies," Firsing said.

He said the United States and South Africa should also make sure recent developments like a BRICS bank will in future work hand and hand with current Western led institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank for a combined force that encourages trade and assists countries in crisis.

There will be a strong business component with the tour helping to shine a positive spotlight on the continent that will hopefully be seen by American companies who are contemplating entering the African market and all it has to offer, despite the perceived risks, Firsing said.

"The United States are looking to prove that is a true partner and friend of the continent and is in the relationship for the long term. Additionally, it wants to change this negative perception of 'America the Bully' to one that supports and helps builds Africa's capabilities in order for Africa to help itself."

"I think Africa is split," Firshing said when asked about how Africans think about the U.S. renewed commitment to Africa.

"We have those that see the good work the .U.S has done in places such as South Sudan and in the health sector, amongst others.

However, Washington's work is often less visible compared to "huge Chinese projects like stadiums, roads and railways," said Firsing.

Obama's African trip runs from June 26 to July 3, covering Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania.

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