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Business News of Friday, 10 July 2009

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Rosa Whitaker profile

In twenty-five years of working for Africa, Rosa Whitaker has not wavered in her belief that trade and investment are the keys to economic development on the continent.

“Building trade and investment in Africa is the fastest way to widespread job creation and a crucial part of ensuring sustainable, long-term development, especially in agriculture,” she says.

Ms. Whitaker’s company, which she founded in 2003, does just that: The Whitaker Group (TWG) facilitates trade and investment between the US and Africa by working with the private sector, governments, and international organizations to build partnerships and capitalize on business opportunities on the continent. Under Ms. Whitaker’s leadership, TWG has facilitated over $1 billion in trade, investment and capital to Africa, including the introduction of Kosmos Energy to Ghana to find oil. TWG was also responsible for bringing a major agricultural company to the country, whose investment has already resulted in a high-tech processing facility to add value to Ghana’s chief crops for export.

Prior to starting TWG, Ms. Whitaker served as the first-ever Assistant US Trade Representative for Africa in the administrations of Presidents Clinton and Bush. During her time there, she developed and advocated for the passage of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which has created over 300,000 jobs on the continent and increased African exports to the US by 300 percent since its signing in 2000.

According to Ms. Whitaker, AGOA is “progress” but there is much more to be done. “Despite its huge potential, its valuable products, its massive market and human capital, Africa still makes up less than three percent of world trade,” she says. During a recession, she argues, this lack of integration into the global economy makes it even more difficult for African countries to compete with the rest of the world for business and investment. TWG has been working over the past few years to encourage major global companies to better integrate African value-added products into their supply chains. Ms. Whitaker applauded Coca-Cola on its manual distribution system and SABMiller for its incorporation of African sorghum and cassava into its new product lines; the two companies have had a combined effect of creating more than 100,000 jobs directly and indirectly on the continent.

Ms. Whitaker highlighted this strategy this week in Geneva at an Aid for Trade meeting hosted by World Trade Organization Director General Pascal Lamy. In addition to the supply chain strategy, Ms. Whitaker advocated for a new facility to be created at the African Development Bank that would provide concessional loans and grants for African countries to develop their power and transport infrastructure—the primary constraints to regional and international trade. Rosa Whitaker joined World Bank President Robert Zoellick, President Donald Kaberuka of the African Development Bank, Ministers of Trade from Africa and Asia, the heads of regional organizations such as ECOWAS, and leaders of the International Trade Centre and the United Nations Development Programme at this meeting, where, among other initiatives, a Global Trade Liquidity Program was launched between the World Bank and the African Development Bank.