By Andrew Quinn
LUSAKA (Reuters) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Africa on Friday to sell the benefits of U.S. economic partnership to a continent where China has built strong aid and investment ties.
Clinton arrived in Zambia to begin her five-day trip, which will also take her to Tanzania and Ethiopia to highlight the Obama administration's drive to deepen economic ties with Africa and help it meet challenges ranging from HIV/AIDS to food security.
"Increased trade is one of the fastest ways to expand economic growth, spur development, and reduce poverty across Africa," Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson, Washington's top diplomat for Africa, told reporters before Clinton's arrival.
The trip has been overshadowed by news that Clinton has been in discussions with the White House about moving on next year to become the first female head of the World Bank, which could cast her as a lame duck at a time of huge diplomatic challenges for the United States.
Both the White House and the State Department have denied the news, which was reported exclusively by Reuters on Thursday citing three closes familiar with the discussions. Those sources, informed of the official denials, said the story remained accurate..
U.S. PARTNERSHIP - OR CHINESE AID?
Clinton's second visit to Africa as the top U.S. diplomat is aimed at underscoring the benefits of American partnership for a continent where China is both a ravenous customer for raw materials and an important source of unrestricted development aid.
Clinton will deliver remarks on Friday at a Lusaka meeting devoted to AGOA, the U.S. program signed into law by her husband former President Bill Clinton in 2000 which grants trade preferences for some 37 eligible African countries and has helped expand U.S. trade ties with the continent.
U.S. officials want Congress to extend AGOA when it expires in 2015, and hope the Zambia meeting will sketch ways to improve the program despite nagging bureaucratic and infrastructure problems, widespread corruption and periodic political instability across many parts of Africa.
More than 10 years into the AGOA program, U.S. trade with sub-Saharan Africa remains small, accounting for a little more than 1 percent of total U.S. exports and about only 3 percent of U.S. imports.
Oil from countries such as Nigeria and Angola accounted for some 91 percent of the $44 billion in U.S. imports from AGOA countries in 2010, according to U.S. officials, raising questions about how U.S. trade benefits can be used to encourage more diversification.