South Africa applauds new fund

$100B set to be allocated for infrastructre projects on continent

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WASHINGTON -- South Africa sees the creation of a $100 billion fund to finance infrastructure projects on the continent as one of the key outcomes from the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit this week.

About 40 African leaders meeting in Washington with President Barack Obama over the next two days will discuss the possibility of setting up the fund, South African Transport Minister Dipuo Peters said in an interview in Washington Monday. An announcement may come from Mr. Obama or Vice President Joe Biden, she said.

The U.S.-Africa Infrastructure Development Fund will seek to have equal contributions from the United States and Africa, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, South Africa’s international relations and cooperation minister, said Friday. The financing will go toward supporting “regional integration and Africa’s industrialization,” she said.

“There’ll always be a need for infrastructure funding,” Ms. Peters said. “The terms and conditions still need to be worked out, and that will determine South Africa’s response.”

African nations have a funding shortfall of $50 billion a year to ease energy shortages and transportation bottlenecks, according to the World Bank. Last month, the so-called BRICS group of nations — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — agreed to create a $50 billion development bank to fund projects and serve as an alternative source of finance to the World Bank.

U.S. officials haven’t disclosed any plans for an infrastructure fund. The Obama administration has said it expects more than $900 million in deals to be signed at this week’s summit, with an emphasis on development driven by private business.

While an infrastructure fund is “a great idea,” the $100 billion figure “sounds extremely high unless they’re thinking of pulling in” international donors, said Jennifer Cooke, director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington policy group. “And where would the U.S. get $50 billion?” Ms. Cooke said. “It’s very hard to imagine if they’re talking about U.S. public resources.”

One possibility, she said, would be if the U.S. funding were raised privately and backed by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation or a similar group that backs loans. “If it’s a risk mitigation mechanism, a kind of insurance for getting people to invest,” that would make more sense, she said.

South Africa is also lobbying for a 15-year extension of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, a preferential trade pact between the United States and Africa,and to remain a beneficiary. South African exports to the United States have more than doubled since 2000, when AGOA was implemented.

U.S. poultry groups want South Africa to be exempted from the preferential trade program because the government restricts some U.S. imports by using anti-dumping duties.


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