Clinton In Zambia To Woo Africa From Chinese Rivals

Originally published on June 11, 2011 10:38 am
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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Africa this weekend talking about trade and how the U.S. is trying to manage its competition with China on the continent. Speaking on a Zambian news program, the secretary warned of what she called a new colonialism, as China increasingly invests in Africa. She works to drum up more U.S. investments. Secretary Clinton has paid particular attention on this trip to women and young people.

NPRs Michele Kelemen has this look at the secretary on the road.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Traveling with the secretary can seem like a whirlwind. One day shes planning for a post-war Libya with sheikhs and foreign ministers at an opulent hotel in Abu Dhabi. The next, shes clapping her hands and dancing with African women in Zambia.

(Soundbite of Zambian women singing and clapping)

KELEMEN: Clinton came here to talk about ways to build on the African Growth and Opportunity Act, a bill signed by her husband in 2000. Shed made a point of making sure women get extra training and networking opportunities.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): So what is the bestseller? What sells it all?

KELEMEN: The secretary was in her element checking out display tables of jewelry, textiles and agricultural products - all made by women.

Sec. CLINTON: Mmm. I love peanut butter. Its excellent.

Unidentified Woman: Yeah.

KELEMEN: Elly Mwale runs a company that produces rice, beans and ground nuts and is hoping to break into the U.S. market. She seemed energized by Clintons visit.

Ms. ELLY MWALE (Business owner): Her message today is very, very good. Because if you look at the cost of doing business in Africa, its so high, regardless of what sector you are in.

KELEMEN: Clinton talked about the need for better infrastructure and she had a tough message for African governments to crack down on corruption. The investment climate has improved dramatically since the trade preferences first went into effect, she said, and could improve more.

Sec. CLINTON: In the past decade, Africas exports to the United States have quadrupled from $1 to $4 billion, and that does not count oil.

KELEMEN: Oil is still dominating trade with Africa. Clinton is hoping that will change as more countries take advantage of AGOA - the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

Sec. CLINTON: Not all countries have yet made the most of AGOA. African countries still export only a handful of the 6,500 products that are eligible for duty-free shipping. And the most common export is still a barrel of oil. So we do have the potential to do more, and the question is will we? Will we on both sides?

KELEMEN: China already is making big inroads on the continent running copper mines in Zambia and buying up natural resources to feed a growing demand at home. Zambias president Rupiah Bwezani Banda says his country is open for business. Hes tried to carefully balance U.S. and Chinese interests.

President RUPIAH BWEZANI BANDA (Zambia): During the recent financial crisis in then world, we were fortunate at the time that the Chinese were still able to continue their appetite for what we were producing here in copper. And I think that the whole world benefited from that and we were able to emerge from the financial crisis in the world sooner than later.

KELEMEN: Secretary Clinton pointed out that when China invests it doesnt always use the talents of the African people, and she raised concerns about a lack of transparency. U.S. officials feel they have a better model, if, that is, they can encourage U.S. companies to invest. And while Clinton likes to talk about development even as U.S. aid budgets shrink she tried to quash rumors that she might be looking out for a top development job, running the World Bank in Washington.

Sec. CLINTON: I have had no discussions with anyone. I have evidenced no interest to anyone. I do not have any interest and am not pursuing that position.

KELEMEN: She says she's still committed to her service as secretary of state, and seems to be enjoying it as well.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Lusaka, Zambia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.