U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk speaks as Mayor Kasim Reed and Metro Atlanta Chamber President Sam Williams look on.

While praising its engagement with emerging markets like Brazil and ChinaU.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk urged the Metro Atlanta Chamber not to overlook Africa

Mr. Kirk’s comments came after a speech promoting open markets, tax reform and investment in education, saying the American people want and need Congress to stop bickering and come to a solution before the country falls off the “fiscal cliff.” 

After Mr. Kirk took questions from an engaged audience that showed up with just a few hours’ notice Dec. 11, chamber President Sam Williams stepped up to make closing remarks. 

Mr. Williams praised Mayor Kasim Reed‘s openness to international engagement, noting that the chamber partnered with the city on a productive trade mission to China in March 

While it’s great to target the big boys like China, India and Brazil, Mr. Kirk said, he reminded Mr. Williams that seven of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies are in Africa.

New markets are all the more important to President Obama‘s goal of doubling exports by 2014 with the ongoing malaise in Europe and slowdowns in economies that had been the “envy of the world,” Mr. Kirk said.   

“We were on pace to make that, but the reality is that we are in a globally connected world,” Mr. Kirk said of the president’s National Export Initiative.  

His visit came on a day when the U.S. trade deficit widened to $42.2 billion as the country posted its biggest monthly decline in exports in four years, down 3.6 percent to $180.3 billion from September. 

Though imports declined as well, the trade gap grew because the export figures dropped even more, according to the Commerce Department.

In what was good news for the NEI, exports were up $1.8 billion, about 1 percent, compared to last October, and the U.S. remains on track to exceed last year’s record total of $2.1 trillion in exports, according to acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank, who last month launched the president’s Doing Business in Africa initiative in Johannesburg. 

The day before Mr. Kirk’s visit to Atlanta, the U.S. ambassador to Africa’s second largest economy, Nigeria, was at the World Trade Center Atlanta encouraging companies to trade and invest in Africa. Georgia exports to Nigeria grew 65 percent in 2011 to $307.2 million, making it the only country that cracks the top 30 Georgia export destinations. 

The Metro Atlanta Chamber is reviewing its 2013 strategy for business programs focused on Africa. 

“We consult with companies about business opportunities all over the world, including in Africa. We treat opportunities in Africa the same way that we treat business opportunities anywhere else in the world and consider it a part of our overall scope of activity,” said Ricardo Hubler, director of global trade development for the chamber. 

The Georgia Department of Economic Development takes the same approach, offering trade assistance to companies looking at Africa just as it does in other parts of the world. None of its 10 overseas trade and investment offices are located on the continent. 

Most of the demand for trade assistance in Africa is for South Africa, where the state will lead a trade mission in January, according to Alison Tyrer, a spokeswoman for the department. 

The South Africa trip will be undertaken with funding from the State Trade and Export Promotion grant from the Small Business Administration, a three-year pilot grant launched in 2010.  

For more Africa-focused news with a local flair, visit www.globalatlanta.com/africa.

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...