By  on July 31, 2014

WASHINGTON — President Obama will host a three-day U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit beginning Monday, the first-ever such meeting to feature 51 African heads of state, that will place a focus on a wide range of issues, including apparel and textile trade with the African continent.

A delegation of African and other U.S. and international apparel and textile companies and industry trade associations plan to participate in the summit.

“Next Monday, President Obama will welcome 51 heads of state and governments to the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. The summit will take place over a three-day period and it’s…the largest event any U.S. president has ever held with African leaders,” said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, who outlined the scope of the summit on Thursday. “It is an unprecedented opportunity to strengthen U.S. ties with Africa and to highlight our commitment to address issues that affect us collectively.”

Thomas-Greenfield said the U.S. has two main objectives hosting the summit, which will also feature several White House officials, including Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritkzer, and former President Bill Clinton, who is set to moderate the opening session of the U.S.-Africa Business Forum, being cohosted by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Commerce Department, on Tuesday.

Clinton will moderate a panel titled “Expanding Opportunities: The New Era for Business in Africa,” which will include Doug McMillon, president and chief executive officer of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., as well as ceos from General Electric and The Dow Chemical Co.

Thomas-Greenfield said approximately 300 U.S. company executives, African heads of state, members of Congress and the U.S. government are expected to attend the business forum.

“We want African leaders, African citizens and Americans to come away with the clear message that the United States cares about the continent of Africa and that we are committed to an enduring, multifaceted partnership,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “We also want to see the summit lead to increased American investment to the continent and to more direct linkages between U.S. and African companies. If that happens, it is going to have a multiplier effect. It is going to create jobs on the African continent and it is going to create jobs in the United States.”

The fashion industry has long considered sub-Saharan Africa a potential apparel sourcing platform. Congressional passage of the African Growth & Opportunity Act in 2000 attracted the first flow of apparel and textile investment into the continent.

AGOA, a U.S. trade preference program that allows 40 of 49 sub-Saharan African countries to be eligible to receive duty benefits, expires Sept. 30, 2015, which has raised concern in the fashion industry.

AGOA contains a stipulation known as the “third-country fabric provision” that helps companies producing in 27 least-developed countries that are part of the pact to use fabrics outside of the region and still receive duty-free benefits when shipping to the U.S.

Business has grown steadily because of the provision. Apparel and textile imports from the 49 eligible countries hit 260.9 million square meter equivalents, valued at $983.8 million, for the year ending April.

Paul Ryberg, president of the African Coalition for Trade, said a delegation from Africa’s apparel and textile industry plans to visit Washington to attend a portion of the summit and lobby lawmakers on extending AGOA and the third-country fabric provision by the end of the year to avoid disruptions in business.

“There is definite reason for optimism but if AGOA isn’t renewed until the last minute — in August 2015 — it will be a catastrophe,” Ryberg said.

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