Want to Trade in U.S. Markets? Here’s Where to Start.

AGOA session participants at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja
AGOA session participants at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja

In “AGOA and the Future,” a virtual program held on August 14, 2019, on the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), African entrepreneurs explored the benefits of the trade agreement with audiences at the U.S. embassies in Abuja, Accra, and Lusaka. Featured speakers explored, among other topics, what entrepreneurs can do to get their products ready for trade under AGOA.

Start Where You Are

Krishma Nayee, founder and CEO of the company Zamroot, which makes products that come from the moringa plant, advised African business owners across the continent to focus on market needs and on topics close to them before considering AGOA eligibility.

AGOA session participants at the U.S. Embassy in Abidjan
AGOA session participants at the U.S. Embassy in Abidjan

Krishma first got interested in moringa-based products when she noticed her mom, who is diabetic, taking the superfood; then she embarked on years of research to better understand the market.

Krishma advised entrepreneurs to think about the packaging, the logo, and the design of their products, research that underlines for customers that they’ve done their homework.

Yaganoma Baatuolkuu, founder and managing director of the food processing company Wanjo Africa Ltd. and a 2016 Mandela Washington Fellow, echoed this and encouraged entrepreneurs to think locally when first launching their businesses.

Yagoma explained, too, that it’s important to build new product and customer bases on the continent before exporting to the U.S.

Educate Yourself

Vital Sounouvou, founder and CEO of Exportunity Group and a 2014 Mandela Washington Fellow, put a finer point on the importance of market research based on his work with vendors and sellers in Africa.

As Vital explained, entrepreneurs need to understand the specifications for the goods they are selling, as AGOA regulations differ widely depending on one’s product. For instance, lightweight products, like clothing, are more affordable to ship to U.S. markets.

Vital also encouraged entrepreneurs interested in trading under AGOA to differentiate their products however possible.

As he explained, in U.S. markets, entrepreneurs have to consider all the other goods similar to theirs which are available to customers and what will set their goods apart from competitors’.

One way Vital advised entrepreneurs to distinguish their products from the competition is through compelling storytelling.

For instance, Vital explained that many customers in U.S. markets are interested in the story behind new products, namely where they were sourced and why.

Partner with Others

Yaganoma underlined, too, the value of close collaboration, both with customers and with government agents, to get products ready for trade under AGOA.

Before shipping to the U.S., Yaganoma worked with customers to solicit and incorporate their feedback into her products. She also forged early connections with government officials so that they didn’t waste their time designing a product that didn’t meet the necessary requirements.

Yaganoma also advised entrepreneurs, in addition to collaborating with partners, to participate in trade shows to better understand market needs.

AGOA session participants at the U.S. Embassy in Accra
AGOA session participants at the U.S. Embassy in Accra

Another resource available to entrepreneurs across Africa is USAID’s Southern Africa Trade and Investment Hub, which, as Andrea Donnally, senior trade and investment officer at the U.S. Department of State, explained, offers training to entrepreneurs throughout Africa looking to get their products export-ready.

Entrepreneurs can also visit USAID trade and investment hubs in Accra and Nairobi, in addition to Pretoria, to gain access to these workshops and other resources.

Finally, Krishma encouraged young leaders to forge ahead in the face of inevitable setbacks, as they can sometimes lead to the best ideas.

Interested in learning more about AGOA? Read our guide Understanding the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and explore more business resources on our YALIEntrepreneurs page.

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