US launches bid to increase African food imports

USAID Deputy Administrator for Policy and Programming Isobel Coleman. Photo: AFP

USAID Deputy Administrator for Policy and Programming Isobel Coleman. Photo: AFP

Published Mar 29, 2024


The US yesterday launched a new initiative to boost imports of African foods – specialities such as seafood, nuts and herbs – seeing untapped potential in items that benefit small-scale farmers.

The new Africa Trade Desk aims to increase imports of African speciality foods into the US by $300 million (R5.7 billion) over the next 18 months, marking a 10% increase in the continent’s agricultural exports to the world’s largest economy.

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) announced the project at a trade event in Atlanta that is focusing in particular on South Africa.

“We see untapped potential across the continent of Africa,” said USAID Deputy Administrator Isobel Coleman.

“We want to see more countries leveraging this opportunity to enter the American market,” she said.

“Additionally, we have heard directly from buyers in the US that they need a much larger scale of supply from Africa,” she said.

With a staff of 27 and an upcoming online platform, the Africa Trade Desk aims to streamline logistical hurdles, including insurance and technology that trace and track products, with an aim of connecting the continent’s farmers and food exporters with 20 000 retail stores in the US.

The focus will be on speciality foods such as seafood, fruits, herbs, nuts, spices and juices, with a particular effort by the new trade desk to connect with demand from the African diaspora in the US.

The initiative comes ahead of the scheduled expiration next year of the signature US trade initiative for the continent, the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), which was enacted in 2000 and provides duty-free access for a range of products from countries that meet standards on human rights and democracy.

Congress is debating a renewal of the act, which is supported by President Joe Biden.

Coleman said the new trade desk would complement Agoa including by expanding the range of products that head at volume into the US.

“We believe trade policies should not just benefit those at the top, but should foster inclusive and sustainable development,” including for workers, she said.