Philadelphia’s annual Odunde Festival is known for a cultural celebration of music and food, but this year organizers wanted to support international trade, especially between Pennsylvania businesses and African nations.
About two dozen business owners, ambassadors, and economic development leaders gathered to discuss how to work better together during the African Business Roundtable at Temple University on Friday afternoon.
Representatives from Mali to Cameroon were led on tours of the Port of Philadelphia, which is already a hub for imported goods from across Africa.
For Mali, a landlocked country in West Africa, it’s an uphill battle to diversify its economy, said Noel Diarra, deputy chief of Mission Mali.
“Mali is a land of opportunity, not only in natural resources and farming but also in the ITs,” Diarra said about a major investment in a new building to foster the emerging technology industry.
Diarra visited the Port of Philadelphia as part of the country’s trade mission to the U.S., but it’s not considered a major trading partner, according to the International Trade Administration. Exports from Mali to the U.S. totaled $3.3 million in 2021, up from $2.2 million in 2020.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t significant trade activity from other countries across Africa.
Pa. state Senator Sharif Street serves on Philadelphia’s African and Caribbean Immigrant Affairs Commission.
Street said that few know how much import business Philadelphia already does with African nations.
“In the port of Philadelphia, we bring in four to five billion dollars of cocoa from Africa,” he said. “We also bring in shea butter and a myriad of other natural resources that are necessary for the manufacturing of so many different products.”
Bob Wekesa, deputy director at the African Centre for the Study of the United States at the University of the Wits South Africa, says that the international community is starting to understand the urbanization and business opportunity beyond natural resources across Africa.
“[It’s] recognition of cities as new hubs of Africa-U.S. relations. Africa has a median age of 18 years [old],” Wekesa said. “Many of these are moving into cities. African cities are the fastest growing.”
Economic development leaders are hopeful to spur more trade in the coming years with the new international business partnerships.
Get daily updates from WHYY News!