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Cablegate: Congo/B: Agoa Meetings with Ministers of Commerce

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: CONGO/B: AGOA Meetings with Ministers of Commerce
& Small Business, Plans for Congo's National Strategy

1. Summary. In mid-March consultants from the East and
Central Africa Global Competitiveness Hub (ECA Hub) visited
Brazzaville to launch the AGOA Add-on Project. Courtesy
calls were made on the Ministers of Commerce and of Small
and Medium Businesses by the Ambassador and Econ/Cons
officer to discuss the project, Congo's National AGOA
Strategy and other AGOA challenges for ROC firms. After the
meetings and visits to firms in Brazzaville, Econ/Cons
officer and the local USG-funded consultant traveled to the
commercial city of Pointe-Noire to continue public diplomacy
efforts on AGOA, meet with local officials, and visit
Congolese firms. Overall, the ECA Hub expert noted that
Congo may find it difficult to compete in terms of product
quality and market competitiveness, particularly in the
handicraft sector, with more experienced and sophisticated
businesses from Kenya and South Africa. End Summary.

Minister of Commerce Meeting:

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2. On 10 March 2005, the Ambassador, Econ/Cons officer, and
the ECA Hub consultants met with the Minister of Commerce
and her staff in her offices. Issues discussed included
presenting the AGOA technical assistance (TA) project that
was being launched in ROC, asking for suggestions on firms
that might be good candidates for TA, and inquiring about
the status of proposed ROC legislation to facilitate AGOA-
eligible trade. The Minister expressed considerable concern
that she had not seen yet seen the draft National AGOA
Strategy report done by the ECA Hub consultant from October
2004 nor had an additional seminar planned for January 2005
been executed. Ambassador noted that the October ECA hub
consultant had not informed post of the proposed seminar and
post also had not received a copy of the draft National AGOA
Strategy. (Note: Post was later able to provide both an
English and a French translation of the ECA Hub draft AGOA
National Strategy for Congo.)

3. The Minister indicated her interest in post's comments on
the proposed ROC legislation aimed at facilitating AGOA-
eligible trade, especially in the area of textiles. The ROC
draft legislation concentrates on the operation of a
permanent AGOA office to register Congolese firms exporting
under AGOA and defines the framework for the reporting and
enforcement necessary to maintain AGOA export eligibility.
ECA consultants provided feedback on the draft to suggest
that references to AGOA "Category 9" products might be
better dealt with in separate legislation to avoid

--------------------------------------------- ---
Minister of Small and Medium Businesses Meeting:
--------------------------------------------- ---

5. On Saturday, 12 March 2005, the Ambassador, the Econ/Cons
officer, and the consultants met with the Minister of Small
and Medium Businesses and his staff in his offices. Much
like the meeting with the Minister of Commerce, the TA
project was presented and discussed. It was also stressed
that the project is for technical assistance and not
financial assistance to ROC companies and that the ROC
needed to also ensure that local companies understood this.
The Minister was keen on focusing AGOA efforts in the
handicraft sector, which he felt had potential in Congo.
The Ambassador suggested that he consider attending the
upcoming Dakar AGOA Ministerial in July as this would give
him a better sense of what companies in his areas need to do
in order to access the benefits of AGOA.

--------------------------------------------- -----------
AGOA Add-on Project - Brazzaville & Pointe-Noire Visits:
--------------------------------------------- -----------

6. Earlier in the visit, Econ/Cons officer accompanied the
ECA Hub consultants, Robert Karanja based out of Nairobi and
Landry Koufoundila, the local AGOA Project Coordinator
visited about a dozen local Brazzaville businesses that had
participated in earlier AGOA seminars and wanted to be
considered for the technical assistance project. Vendors
visited included those selling products such as niche herbs
and oils, coffee, wood sculptures, pottery, baskets, and
clothing and accessories made with locally-woven textiles.

7. As part of Post's public diplomacy efforts to inform ROC
companies in Congo's commercial capital Pointe-Noire,
Econ/Cons officer and ECA Hub's local AGOA Project
Coordinator traveled to the area to meet with businesses and
local officials to discuss AGOA in general and the technical
assistance project in particular. Meetings included the
Secretary and Director General of the Chamber of Commerce,

and the Departmental Directors of Commerce, Supply and
Consumption, and Small and Medium Businesses at the Chamber
of Commerce in Point Noire. The interlocutors were curious
about what kinds of publicity and seminars had occurred
already in Brazzaville and stressed that there should be
publicity and seminars in Pointe-Noire since it is the
"economic capital" of the country. At the conclusion of the
meeting, the group provided a list of local firms that might
be good candidates for the technical assistance project.
Most of the suggested firms, which were concentrated in
agribusiness sector, were then visited by the local AGOA
Project Coordinator.


8. Upon completion of the business visits, the ECA Hub
consultants observed that "limited production capacity" was
probably the most significant challenge for the Congolese
firms in both Brazzaville and Pointe Noire. This is
expected to be a focus of the technical experts who are
scheduled to arrive in ROC on April 22. The two sectors
that are likely to be targeted for the technical assistance
project are agribusiness, in particular coffee and cocoa,
and handicrafts. Throughout the visits to local businesses,
product quality and market competitiveness were concerns
expressed by the ECA hub expert. It also was noted that in
the handicraft sector, ROC firms may find it difficult to
compete with more experienced and sophisticated competitors
like Kenya and South Africa.

9. Brazzaville Embassy Office - Sanders

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