Obama Announces Trade Africa Initiative

President Obama is preparing to conclude his trip to Africa. The last leg of his trip is Tanzania, where he continues to press U.S. companies to invest in Africa. A new initiative is going to try to get rid of the road blocks that slow down trade in Africa.

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And farther south on the African continent, President Obama is wrapping up a three-country tour. He's in Tanzania now, on the coast of the Indian Ocean. NPR's Ari Shapiro is travelling with the president and reports on Obama's first day in the Tanzanian city of Dar es Salaam.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: President Obama's time in office has taken him all over the world, and in four and a half years, almost no country has given him as enthusiastic a welcome as Tanzania. Obama's father was born across the border in Kenya, but you would think from the reception here that he was a native son.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARCHING BAND)

SHAPIRO: Thick crowds lined miles of streets as Obama's limousine zoomed from the airport to the presidential state house.

Women wore matching skirts of special Conga cloth with Obama's face printed onto it. Signs on every lamppost said, Karibu, Obama, the Swahili word for welcome. And the final stretch of the drive hugged the Indian Ocean along a road that used to be called Ocean Drive, now renamed Barack Obama Drive.

PRESIDENT JAKAYA KIKWETE: There's never been a visit by head of state to Tanzania that has attracted such big crowds.

SHAPIRO: This is Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete. He and President Obama spoke on the manicured grounds of the State House surrounded by strutting peacocks. Business investment has been a central theme of this trip and it was a particular focus here in Tanzania. At the news conference with Kikwete, President Obama talked about what he called a new model based not just on aid and assistance, but on trade and partnership.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: So we don't want to just provide the medicine, we want to help build the health infrastructures that allow Tanzanians to improve their overall health systems. We don't want to just provide food, we want to increase food self-sufficiency.

SHAPIRO: One key part of that strategy is convincing American companies to invest in Africa. So the president went next to a meeting of 20 U.S. and African business leaders. Heads of major American corporations sat around the table. GE, Microsoft and Coca-Cola were there. When the meeting was over, Obama addressed a larger crowd of 170 business leaders.

OBAMA: Of all our exports to the world, only about 2 percent goes to Africa so I know we could be doing much more together.

SHAPIRO: To get things moving, the president announced a new initiative yesterday called Trade Africa. On Air Force One, U.S. trade representative Mike Froman said this effort is going to try to get rid of the roadblocks that slow down trade in Africa. He means literal roadblocks.

MIKE FROMAN: Trucks will wait for, oftentimes, days, to get through the border crossing, crosses to the next country and face another border crossing with a different customs system. All these things add costs and create a lack of competitiveness for products coming out of this region.

SHAPIRO: For example, he said, look at coffee.

FROMAN: It takes 42 days to export coffee out of Rwanda. It takes 14 days to export coffee out of Columbia.

SHAPIRO: The president also announced an initiative yesterday to protect African wildlife from poachers.

OBAMA: The entire world has a stake in making sure that we preserve Africa's beauty for future generations.

SHAPIRO: On Air Force One, Grant Harris said the illegal trade in rhino horns and elephant tusks is out of control. Harris handles African affairs for the White House National Security Staff.

GRANT HARRIS: Rhinoceros, there are about 50,000 right now left in the world. That number was about 600,000 in the mid-20th century.

SHAPIRO: Harris says rhinoceros horn goes for $30,000 a pound on the black market today. That's more than gold. Obama's program allocates $10 million to the problem. That's to fight a global industry that rakes in many millions of dollars from the sale of these animal parts. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

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