A good, lasting relationship with the United States is good Ethiopian foreign policy. This does not mean America is a perfect society. It has issues, imperialism, racism, that is unfortunate with many. But America at its best is what Ethiopia should aspire to be, SAMUEL GETACHEW writes.
The American Chamber of Commerce of Ethiopia was launched in Ethiopia last month at the Sheraton Hotel, one of the better known American brands. A slew of American, Ethiopian and Ethiopian-American entrepreneurs and guests were in attendance. It was a full house. The architect of Ethiopia’s recent success in attracting foreign investment to the country, Fitsum Araga, was one of the main speakers.
He helped facilitate the construction of Ethiopia’s thriving industrialized areas and is known as one of the early signatories and champions of the new chamber, along with the economic team at the Embassy and the now departed United States ambassador, Patricia M. Haslach.
Peter Vrooman, Charge d’Affaires, opened the gathering, reflecting on the two year journey to get to this point, the result of intensive efforts by the U.S. Embassy’s Foreign Commercial Service and Economic teams in collaboration with the AmCham steering committee. He highlighted the importance of the AmCham in expanding the American-Ethiopian trade and investment relationship. “It’s mutually beneficial for U.S. and Ethiopian businesses alike,” he said. “It will create opportunities for U.S. businesses, while at the same time improving the investment climate and strengthening the growth of the private sector which is so critical to achieving growth objectives.”
Mr. Vrooman highlighted the role that the private sector can play in helping Ethiopia build a more conducive environment for businesses and investors. “It is critical that the voice of the private sector be heard and its needs addressed so that it can help grow Ethiopia’s economy as outlined in GTP (Growth and Transformation Plan) II goals,” he said, noting that “a steady and sustainable economic growth requires a fair, predictable, and transparent business environment.” “By the same token, the private sector needs a level playing field that allows fair competition with state owned enterprises,” he added. Business visas, taxes, and customs procedures must all be efficient, predictable processes in order to attract foreign investment and sustainable trade in the future.
To Ethiopia, there is no more important relationship that Ethiopia should value than our relationship with the United States of America. From the nation builders sent to the country because of the legacy of John F. Kennedy’s Peace Corp, to the generosity of America’s scholarships to young promising Ethiopian scholars for generations, to George W. Bush’s legacy of attempting to eradicate the HIV / AIDS epidemic within the continent, to Obama’s recent Energy Power legacy, America still stands as beacon of hope to Ethiopia and Ethiopians alike.
Lest we forget, America is the home to many Ethiopians, refugees and immigrants, serving as a sanctuary and giving many multiple chances to succeed. This was especially true during dark eras in the country and the continent. In many areas, culture, trade, scholarships and opportunities, withstanding some side effects, Ethiopians aspire to be Americans than any other nation. That is the truth. I also like the fact that the American citizenry values art, as an institution that has a paramount place within its society.
What country comes close to that ideal nation, than the United States of America?
A good, lasting relationship with the United States is good Ethiopian foreign policy. This does not mean America is a perfect society. It has issues, imperialism and racism. That is unfortunate. America at its best is what Ethiopia should aspire to become.
I am glad to know that Americans are realizing trade is more important than charity. I hope they are beginning to understand that bringing an American enterprise to Ethiopia and creating employment has a more profound impact than any of the USAID money thrown at the country.
As the United States plays catch up to the Chinese and Indian interest in the country and the continent, the trade relationships between the two countries should be encouraged and expanded. Ethiopia has the raw materials, the Americans do have the technologies and what the new African wants and interested in is the transfer of knowledge that the United States can offer, to a nation that is still, one of the world’s poorest.
The trade between the two now stands at just under two billion dollars. The goods trade surplus with the country is only valued at just over one billion dollars and that is a decrease of 15pc from the previous year. Ethiopia is America’s 81st largest goods trading partner. That is unfortunate compared to the trade relationships enjoyed by many African countries. Tanya Cole, the Senior Commercial Officer for the U.S. Foreign Commercial Service in Ethiopia noted that one of the benefits of the AmCham is to help Ethiopia improve on the trade balance between the two countries through FCS and other trade agencies partnership and trade promotion programs. AGOA can also play a critical role in this area and the US would like to see Ethiopian companies exporting more under the AGOA provisions.
AmCham Ethiopia is set to promote commerce, investments, create a direct linkage with the Chamber of Commerce in the United States and advocate for investors within the corridors of power in both countries and help facilitate a discussion among business executives on the interest of entrepreneurship in Ethiopia and the United States.
While AmCham is new to Ethiopia, the idea has been used in many parts of the world as a business mechanism to strengthen the relationship between countries. In South Africa for instance, the group has championed the creation of employment in areas that needed entrepreneurship the most. A study has shown that thousands of jobs were created and resulted in the creation of social safety nets, in areas once affected by apartheid.
Here in Ethiopia, Mr. Vrooman said the Embassy, along with the AmCham, “will attract American companies that bring higher production quality, technology transfer, professional training, and create jobs that benefit all Ethiopians.” He said that U.S. companies raise the social and environmental standards and critical worker protections. As an example he cited a textile industrial park in Hawassa, where a U.S. company made it a priority to incorporate international best practices for worker health and safety.
They also spearheaded an initiative that includes a host of innovative features such as a workforce assessment center, and high environmental standards leading to a zero liquid discharge system by planting 50,000 trees in the park. Not only do these efforts improve the quality of life for company employees and the surrounding community, but they also set a standard that other businesses can emulate.
In short, the American Chamber of Commerce brings opportunity to Ethiopia, including an opportunity for increased trade, to take advantage of international best practices and know-how, and to create a business environment conducive to private sector growth is at our fingertips. This is only the beginning.
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