Yellen Champions New U.S.-Africa Policy with Trip to Senegal, Zambia and South Africa

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U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will travel to Senegal, Zambia and South Africa over the next two weeks in a bid to strengthen U.S. ties with Africa, which has long been the hub of Chinese trade and investment.

Yellen, 76, is the first member of President Joe Biden’s administration to embark on a long trip to Africa, after he announced more than $15 billion worth of bilateral trade and investment deals in December, saying the United States is “fully committed” to Africa’s future.

His trip comes as Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang continues a five-nation tour of Africa, the 33rd consecutive year Africa has been the destination for the Chinese foreign minister’s first overseas tour of the year.

Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Trade Representative Katherine Tai and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo will also travel to Africa this year, as will Yellen’s deputy, Wally Adeyemo.

Yellen will meet with government and private sector representatives in the three countries to discuss energy, food security, debt issues and infrastructure investments, according to senior U.S. Treasury officials. In Senegal, Yellen will meet with African Union President Macky Sall.

The new U.S. approach includes pledges and delivering important investments and trade partnerships, not just humanitarian aid and security assistance, U.S. officials said.

“We believe Africa’s growth will be a key driver of global growth in the coming decades,” a senior U.S. Treasury official told reporters. “U.S. companies investing in Africa mean jobs and opportunities for a growing middle class, and new markets and customers for American businesses.”

Sub-Saharan African economies will grow by 3.7% in 2023, according to IMF forecasts, beating global estimates of 2.7%. The United Nations estimated last year that the population of many countries in sub-Saharan Africa will double between 2022 and 2050.

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China’s trade with Africa is about four times that of the United States. Beijing has become a major creditor by offering cheaper loans — often with opaque conditions and collateral requirements — than Western banks. But some African countries, including Zambia, have resented Chinese loans and are looking for alternatives, experts say.

The goal of Yellen’s visit is to strengthen long-standing U.S. ties with African countries, and to offer them sustainable, high-quality investments that “do not impose unsustainable debt burdens on recipient countries,” the Treasury representative said, without offering specific details.

Yellen has criticized Beijing — currently the world’s largest creditor — for failing to move quickly to restructure the debt of Africa’s poor countries. This issue will be key in his visit to Zambia, according to the Treasury representative.

Yellen’s stay in Zambia will coincide with a visit by International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva, although IMF sources said the trips were not planned at the same time.

Washington aims to offer African leaders more sustainable options than China, a senior U.S. official told Reuters, especially in areas such as infrastructure, digital transformation and climate change.

Biden proposed in December to include the African Union in the Group of 20 major economies, to give African countries a greater seat at the table. The only African country previously included was South Africa.

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