U.S. Explores West African Trade and Investment Agreement

The U.S. is exploring a possible trade and investment agreement with the 15-nation Economic Community of West Africa, acting U.S. Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis said today.

The announcement came after a meeting in Washington yesterday between President Barack Obama and the leaders of three ECOWAS members, Presidents Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone and Macky Sall of Senegal and Prime Minister José Maria Pereira Neves of the Cape Verde Islands. The three were joined by President Joyce Banda of Malawi in southeastern Africa.

After Obama’s meeting, Marantis and other administration officials proposed that the U.S. and ECOWAS explore the possibility of negotiating a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), the trade representative’s office said in a statement.

The U.S. has similar agreements with the East African Community, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, the West African Economic and Monetary Union, and the Southern African Customs Union. It also has bilateral trade and investment agreements with eight nations in sub-Saharan Africa - - Angola, Ghana, Liberia, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, and South Africa, the trade representative’s office said.

The ECOWAS agreement “can significantly contribute to economic growth and increased international competitiveness on both sides of the Atlantic” and help support American jobs by improving opportunities for U.S. investment in West Africa, Marantis said in the statement.

‘Democratic Gains’

After his meeting yesterday with the four African leaders, Obama said their countries are consolidating democratic gains, leading to more stable governments and economic growth.

“They exemplify the progress that we’re seeing in Africa,” Obama said. “All of them have had to deal with some extraordinary challenges.”

Meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Obama said Sierra Leone has had consecutive “free and fair” elections after civil war a decade ago, Malawi has overcome a constitutional crisis, Senegal has preserved democracy “after some bumps” in the road from the previous president, and Cape Verde has boosted per-capita income from about $200 a year to about $4,000 a year, “a real success story.”

The African leaders also met this week with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel for talks on countering terrorism, combating transnational threats and improving maritime security. Recent U.S. efforts to those ends have been focused on defeating Islamic militants in North Africa and fighting piracy along the east and west African coasts.

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