Setting the schedule for 2014 international trade
By Harry C. Alford
I write this article from the beautiful shores of the Dominican Republic. We have assembled here for our second PanAfrican Entrepreneurship Conference. We first came here in 2006 and really enjoyed it. Now, we have a much larger agenda and are focused on exactly what the 1.2 billion persons of African descent need to do to further our quality of life and improve our economic power. We can’t just run around without a plan; there must be a plan as the late Adam Clayton Powell would admonish us.
The first thing we must do is establish a viable database and communication network. Nation by nation and market by market we must identify the facilitators and direct resources. Let’s not be concerned about the size of a nation as good business can come from the small as well as the populated giants. Think of Singapore and Hong Kong — two tiny markets in terms of size and population, yet they are leaders in the industrialized first world. We are happy to be meeting here with representatives from Suriname, Senegal, Colombia, Dominican Republic, California, Texas, Virginia, Washington, D.C., Illinois, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, Michigan and Maryland — just to name a few markets.
Secondly, we must target locations for trade missions. I perceive Cali, Colombia as being high on our list. They are here to inform us about the advantages of the Free Trade Agreement between our two governments. All duties and tariffs between the two nations have disappeared. It is time to treat trade like rock n’ roll. There are 20 million people of African descent in the nation of Colombia with Cali being a Black center. It lies along the Pacific Ocean and would remind an American of the Malibu area of California. The Colombians are serious about doing business with us. They are making a full presentation here and next week we will meet their President Santos for lunch at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce building. We are becoming enjoined. I foresee a trade mission during the first quarter of 2014.
We are engaged with a group of Maroons from Suriname. Maroons are descended from would-be slaves that escaped their capture as soon as their slave ship landed. They lived off the land and developed their own unique culture (keeping much of old Africa with them). Some would accumulate money and buy their own land. Our group has 10,000 hectares (21,000 square acres). They want us to partner with us in agri-business and mining. They have the natural resources and we have the expertise. That’s a winning hand! Some of our team has already visited Suriname twice. We are ready to throw down.
The Central American Free Trade Agreement which now includes the Dominican Republic is waiting for our exploitation. Costa Rica will be the next nation after the Dominican Republic followed by the other nations in the agreement.
We must not forget the “mother land.” The Africa Growth and Opportunity Act is a free trade agreement with many nations in Africa. Basically, a lot of social groups have been talking about it and a few giants like Walmart, Target, Kmart, Whole Foods and the oil companies have been working the advantages. It’s time to start working small business to small business — hooking up African American entrepreneurs with up-and-coming African entrepreneurs.
A good example would be my personal tailor. He imports his fabric from Italy. It costs him about $160,000 per year in tariffs and duties. He needs to find a way to route the fabric to an African nation or a CAFTA nation; put some “value added” into the product and bring it to the United States free of that $160,000 per year. Perhaps Senegal is a candidate since they are marketing their fashion industry to us. This type of action can be replicated thousands of times per year.
BMW built a large plant in South Africa for the sake of saving monies via AGOA. All of the products produced go directly to the United States duty free. That saves money for the American consumer and has created thousands of jobs for our South African brothers and sisters. There is just so much potential out there.
I perceive making inroads to various nations in 2014. We will be providing excellent models for those of us who are serious about getting into international trade. There are tools we can use and cut out waste and corruption. Yes, corruption will not be tolerated in any form or manor. When we see it, we will call it out. This operation here will be about serious business and progress can no longer be deferred.
Finally, in 2014 we will make strong contact with our Cuban entrepreneurs who are enjoying new freedoms (land ownership, leasing, manufacturing, etc.). We look forward to our return. Look out Diaspora — here we come!
Harry C. Alford is the president/CEO and co-founder of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.