The commerce minister of Zambia will bring a group of top officials to Atlanta June 27, the latest in a parade of southern African leaders courting investment from the Georgia capital.
As part of a five-city U.S. tour, Robert Sichinga will lead the heads of government agencies responsible for the mission’s target industries: agriculture, mining, energy and infrastructure.
The trip is expected to intensify the country’s growing efforts to welcome more American trade and investment, U.S. Ambassador Mark Storella said, citing conversations with Zambian officials.
“They have all said that they are eager to see greater American commercial activity in their country,” Mr. Storella said on a conference call from Lusaka, the capital city.
Trade between the U.S. and Zambia nearly doubled to $156.4 million in 2011 from $86 million in the previous year, with the increase driven mostly by U.S. exports.
As Africa’s top copper producer, Zambia’s fortunes are closely linked to the price of that commodity. Lately that has paid off, as the country posted its 12th straight year of economic expansion, hitting 7.6 percent growth in 2011.
But opportunities in the country, which is slightly larger than Texas, aren’t limited to natural resources, the ambassador said.
A stable democracy since its independence from Britain in 1964, Zambia became a middle-income country by the World Bank‘s standards last year when it eclipsed $1,000 in per capita income. While rural poverty is rampant, consumer products companies can target a rising middle class in the urban areas, Mr. Storella said.
Agriculture is also on the rise in the nation of 14 million people, he said.
“The potential here is really tremendous. This is a country that is basically flat and has lots of rivers and lakes,” Mr. Storella added, noting that a tiny percentage of arable land is cultivated.
Private equity groups are welcomed in by the government to buy farmland, and equipment manufacturers like Atlanta-based AGCO Corp. are getting involved. AGCO is set to break ground June 4 on a demonstration farm where it will train farmers on its technology, the ambassador said.
Still, Zambia has its challenges. While it borders eight countries and can be a gateway to other markets, being landlocked raises logistical costs. Also, finding trained workers can be difficult, he said.
The Zambian delegation will be in Atlanta after attending conferences in Washington, Cincinnati and Houston. After Atlanta, the group will head to Boston.
The announcement of the Zambian group comes on the heels of a delegation from South Africa‘s Gauteng province and a visit by the ambassador of Botswana, who announced that she would bring a similar high-level delegation to Atlanta in July.
For its part, the U.S. Commercial Service is leading an American delegation to South Africa and Zambia in November.
“We’re looking forward to closing deals; that’s what I really want to do,” Mr. Storella said.
For more details on the Zambian delegation to Atlanta or the outbound mission to Africa, contact Brent Omdahl at the U.S. Export Assistance Center in Atlanta by phone at (404) 897-6082 or by email at email@example.com.