About the Author: Reta Jo Lewis is the State Department's Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs.
Recently, my office -- the Office of the Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs -- participated in the annual African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Forum and the first-ever African Women's Entrepreneurship Program held in Kansas City. The meetings aimed to facilitate the involvement of state and local government, and sought to improve trade relations between the United States and the AGOA-eligible sub-Saharan African countries. This Forum is an example of the Department of State putting into action its goal to engage and collaborate with state and local leaders.
I had the opportunity to open the Kansas City portion of the Forum at its official reception, joined by U.S. Department of State Deputy Assistant Secretary for Africa William Fitzgerald, U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Jim Miller, Kansas Secretary of Commerce Bill Thornton, and Kansas City, Kansas Mayor Joe Reardon. U.S. government representatives, African ministers, and business representatives from both African nations and 30 U.S. states attended.
Mayor Reardon expressed his appreciation for the opportunity for local government participation, and pledged continuing support for Secretary Clinton's efforts to enhance the relationships between local governments in the United States with those around the world. During the opening breakfast and business roundtable to discuss trading and investing in Africa, Mayor Mark Funkhouser of Kansas City, Missouri, made spirited welcome remarks from the host city and welcomed active engagement with the Department of State and the work we are doing globally.
Global Intergovernmental Affairs held two sessions during the Forum. The first focused on the African Women's Entrepreneurship Program, and allowed this impressive group of women from 34 AGOA countries to seek advice and have their questions answered by three state and local government representatives. This meeting boasted a large turnout. Much enthusiasm and appreciation was on display, and one female entrepreneur from Tanzania came away from the session with a mentorship opportunity with a panelist.
The second day's session provided a venue for African ministers to discuss key issues and coordinate directly with U.S. state and local officials. One-on-one meetings were held with representatives from Burundi, Liberia, Nigeria, and Togo. Participating local officials, including a State Representative from Missouri, addressed advocacy concerns and logistical matters in establishing trade and business opportunities with the United States. The participants spent some time identifying relevant business pairings within local communities and districts.
Overall, even with the Forum's focus on business development, local government's desire for involvement in in these economic cooperation issues was very much in evidence, and the opportunity to have everyone from these sectors meet and work together proved invaluable.