WASHINGTON – Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said American companies are not “meeting” the demand for high-quality products, services and infrastructure in Africa.
Ross said economic growth and “demographic trends across Africa” are translating into “rising buying power” and a demand for quality is increasing.
“American companies should be meeting this demand. However, it’s not happening. Last year, U.S. exports to Africa hit a 10-year low just two years after an all-time high. Now, I know that African imports are down, but we are also losing market share.
Just one acronym answers Mr. Ross: FCPA, or the "Foreign Corrupt Practices Act",. which prohibits American companies from bribing foreign officials. One can approve or disapprove of the law, but the entire African continent runs on bribes, and if you can't bribe, you can't do business. John Blankley, former executive at BP before he came to this country to run for the office of First Selectman, once told me that England has a similar, though less restrictive law, and BP simply couldn't compete with the French who, he said, would arrive with "suitcases of cash and white women"—what a great line.
The real winners in Africa these days are the Chinese, who couldn't care less about bribing local government officials (and why should they, when that's how their own country operates?), and so they're spreading across the continent with the speed of an Ebola epidemic.
Because of the nebulous wording of FCPA, U.S. prosecutors have a 97% success rate when they bring charges. Ask Greenwich's Frederic Burke, who spent a year in prison after a farcical trial that denied him the right to cross-examine the government's chief witness, his supposed "co-conspirator". So what American executive would want to do business in a place that requires bribery to succeed, when his government is poised to imprison him if he does?
There are better ways to make a living.