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US Commits to Manufacturing in Africa, Burma with Trade Office Expansion

As more manufacturers look to Africa as a sourcing destination, the United States has solidified its commitment to boost trade with the continent and plans to open four new U.S. trade offices there and one in Burma.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker announced the expansion of trade offices last month and said that in 2014, the Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration will open offices in Angola, Ethiopia, Mozambique and Tanzania.

According to a U.S. Embassy statement, “These four new offices, in addition to one to be opened in Burma, will bring the knowledge and experience of U.S. trade specialists into some of the world’s most rapidly developing economies.”

Burma’s recent commitment to political reform and market liberalization have positioned it as another promising source of production and Western retailers are increasingly looking to the country as an alternative to producing in China.

Sub-Saharan Africa is becoming a more popular option for production and it is one of the fastest-growing economic regions in the world.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Global Markets Arun Kumar, said in a Commerce Department blog post last month, “Our new offices will support White House initiatives like Trade Africa and Power Africa, which have spearheaded a larger campaign to bolster development throughout the continent.”

Trade Africa is a partnership between the U.S. and sub-Saharan Africa, launched by President Obama last July, designed to increase internal and regional trade within Africa and expand trade and economic ties between Africa, the U.S. and other global markets. Power Africa is an initiative Obama announced in June 2013 that aims to double access to power in the region.

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“As U.S. companies look to ship goods to Africa, help increase electrical capacity, or help improve transportation networks, they will receive unparalleled assistance and expertise from our staff,” Kumar said. “With our new offices on the continent, we will be able to find partners for American companies, help navigate regulatory hurdles, and support the development that will make Africa thrive.”

Other organizations like the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA), and the African Cotton & Textile Industries Federation (ACTIF), are also working together to encourage trade with Africa.

The three groups partnered earlier this year to promote Africa as a sound sourcing option for international buyers. Through the collaboration, the U.S. and Africa will exchange market and import/export policy information, share guidance on trade requirements and promote solutions to help address market constraints.

H&M already ventured into sourcing in Sub-Saharan Africa with small-scale production in Ethiopia and plans to continue growth in the region. Company CEO Karl-Johan Persson has said he sees “huge potential” in Africa in terms of production.