It’s interesting to see news of Interbuild Africa 2014—Africa’s largest construction exhibition—because it follows so closely after the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, recently held in Washington. One topic, as would be expected, is demand for energy-efficient construction materials since South Africa’s increasing demand for energy faces limited capacity and roughly 40 percent of total energy consumption is spent in buildings.


One exhibitor is The Dow Chemical Company, which is showing its various solutions to enhance the energy efficiency of buildings. All of these technologies provide insulation performance and also meet the need for better productivity and processing targets at competitive levels, according to the company.


“Energy efficiency is a key focus for us among a broad portfolio of solutions that help make buildings and homes more comfortable, efficient and sustainable,” says Mohammed Sami, Commercial Leader for Sub-Saharan Africa in the Dow Polyurethanes business, and a speaker at the event.


Secondly, while it isn’t recent news, I’ve also been thinking about FedEx Express’ acquisition of Supaswift in South Africa, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland and Zambia. The acquisition gives FedEx Express, a FedEx Corp. subsidiary, direct access across the seven countries to 40 facilities and more than 1,000 team members. Consequently, the company is able to connect the region to more than 220 countries and territories worldwide, which according to FedEx Express, enhances customers’ business flexibility and speed to market.


David Binks, president for Europe, Middle East, Indian Subcontinent and Africa with FedEx Express, notes that physical infrastructure in Africa is improving and increased connectivity is helping domestic businesses flourish. South Africa is a hub for the pharmaceutical, information technology, publishing and manufacturing industries, and provides a springboard into the rest of the southern African region, he says in a recent eyefortransport article. There are many local businesses ready to partner with European companies and reach new customers, he says, and the growth potential in this region is enormous.


Perhaps the more pressing topic, is the trade relationship between the U.S. and Africa in general, and, specifically, the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). The Act, which provides exporters duty-free access to the U.S. market, expires next year.


Charles Brewer, managing director of DHL Express Sub Saharan Africa, says in a recent SupplyChainBrain article that the company has seen significant volume growth in the region since the introduction of AGOA in 2000. More importantly, he says DHL and others support renewal of the Act by congress when it expires next year.


“Trade lanes in Africa have increased significantly as a result of relieved trade barriers, which have had a positive impact on many local businesses,” Brewer says. “A key driver of this growth has been the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which has stimulated trade and investment between Africa and the U.S.”


In fact, since the introduction of AGOA, DHL Africa has seen an increase in primary trading sectors such as manufacturing, apparel and footwear, Brewer says in the article. The company has also seen an increase in secondary sectors dependent on agriculture, petroleum and natural gases, he notes.


Considering the changing demographics in many African countries that show not only a growing population, but also a growing middle class, I believe we will see an increasing number of news reports about Africa as companies not only target consumers, but also contemplate sourcing some operations there.


What are your thoughts on Africa? What are your company’s plans for operations in African countries?