In a bid to drive U.S. investment in the African energy sector, the U.S.-Africa Energy Forum (USAEF) 2021 kicked off on Monday with a virtual session, featuring petroleum ministers from Republic of the Congo and Equatorial Guinea along with leading energy and finance industry leaders.
Under the theme, The U.S.-Africa Energy Partnership: Successes and New Horizons, the first of two virtual sessions identified key factors behind investment success stories on the continent, as well as leading opportunities for future cooperation, centering on the clean energy value chain and full implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).
Opening remarks were given by H.E. Bruno Jean Richard Itoua, Minister of Hydrocarbons of Republic of the Congo – a veteran of the oil and gas industry and one of the founding members of the National Petroleum Company of Congo – and NJ Ayuk, Executive Chairman of the African Energy Chamber (AEC), with Jude Kearney, Chair of the U.S. Africa Committee, AEC, as the moderator.
“Cooperation between America and Africa will be a key factor for the global future,” said H.E. Minister Itoua. “In energy, Africa is not the problem. Africa is the solution. This becomes even more true when you talk about the transition. We have substantial quantities of oil, but more importantly, we have substantial quantities of gas – which is the first part of the energy transition – as well as one of the most important potentials for renewables.”
“We can no longer accept that more than 650 million on the African continent go without electricity every day, when there is an abundance of gas and petroleum resources that can be used,” said Ayuk. “At the AEC, we are committed to free-market policies, limited government and finding ways to integrate new projects into our continent. We welcome American ingenuity that has been the driving force behind the U.S. energy revolution to date.”
Panelists included H.E. Gabriel Obiang Lima, Minister of Mines and Hydrocarbons of Equatorial Guinea; Alexa Burr, Vice President for Standards & Services, American Petroleum Institute (API); Akinwole Omoboriowo II, Chairman and CEO, Genesis Energy Group; Posso Ganame, Chairman, Texas-West Africa Chamber of Commerce; and Miguel Peñaloza, Business Development / Project Finance, U.S. Export-Import (EXIM) Bank.
For Equatorial Guinea, the U.S. represents the single largest foreign investor in the country and has played a critical role in its hydrocarbon development, as well as more recent domestic gas monetization drive, since the entry of ExxonMobil in 1994 and subsequent discovery of the prolific Zafiro field. According to a poll by Energy Capital & Power (ECP), 54% of respondents believe that the Gulf of Guinea remains sub-Saharan Africa’s most promising exploration hotspot.
“American companies like ExxonMobil, Hess Corporation and United Meridian were the ones that made Equatorial Guinea what it is today. If we have energy, infrastructure and local capacity, it has been thanks to U.S. companies,” said H.E. Minister Lima. “Another critical element is the way that they have transferred technology and know-how. For example, the Zafiro field is 90%-operated by Equatoguineans. It hasn’t just been investment, but rather investment in human resources and involvement across upstream, midstream and downstream sectors. Finally, Equatorial Guinea has the highest per capita investment in infrastructure. U.S. companies and institutions advised us to invest in our base infrastructure, so if the oil ends, we can still continue with services.”
In addition to hydrocarbon exploration, panelists highlighted key integrated foreign investment and export opportunities along the clean energy value chain, as well as implementation of the AfCFTA, which aims to accelerate intra-African trade and boost Africa’s trading position within the global market.
“We see a rebound taking place as global energy demand returns to pre-pandemic levels,” said Burr. “Gas and LNG have a particularly important role to play, as the industry intends to expand its use of lower carbon hydrocarbon development and deliver affordable, clean energy while reducing our environmental footprint. This will have an impact on investments and portfolios. At API, we have recently come out with a climate action framework, demonstrating our commitment to investing in lower-carbon technologies. Through our partnerships, we hope to bring that to Africa and commercialize promising new industries that are leading the way.”
“Tariffs for intra-African trade will be eliminated, which is a huge opportunity for U.S. companies to access all African nations and grow their businesses across the continent,” said Posso. “This will save costs. Instead of spending money on tariffs, companies will use that money to expand their business. This is a great opportunity for U.S. businesses to invest in Africa.”
The panelists also highlighted that developing and maintaining financial access to African markets was key to expanding Africa’s energy sector. According to a poll by ECP, 70% of respondents believe that blended financing is best suited to meeting Africa’s energy and infrastructure investment gap.
“With the U.S as a key partner to 54 African countries, there are various initiatives on which U.S. government entities and companies can endeavor to focus. One relates to blended concessionary financing, which has the capacity to enable projects that may not be commercially viable without support,” said Omoboriowo. “We need to get more American companies that are hands on with their investments. For example, companies in the U.S. produce solar batteries and panels. I’m sure we can find free trade areas on the continent where we can localize the factories. My sense is that there are practical, realistic initiatives that the U.S. can collaborate with identified countries.”
For its part, the U.S. EXIM Bank has a congressional mandate to support trade and investment to sub-Saharan Africa and has supported over $12.5 billion in investments in the region to date, with the largest being the five-billion-dollar direct loan to support the export of U.S. goods and services to the Mozambique LNG development.
“As a government agency, we are demand-driven and a tool for U.S. exporters as they develop new technologies, products and services. We support them in being able to get their products sold to Africa,” said Peñaloza. “Power Africa, Prosper Africa under the previous administration, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, the U.S. Development Finance Corporation, the U.S. EXIM Bank – from a governmental perspective, we all try to collaborate and work together.”
USAEF 2021 seeks to introduce American companies to African opportunities, promote greater investment in African nations’ energy value chains, and advance an agenda of sustainable, long-term investment in African energy (including petroleum, clean energy, power infrastructure and mineral resources) and other sectors by U.S. organizations. An in-person networking event will be held in Washington D.C. on July 12, 2021, leading up to the main summit and gala dinner in Houston, Texas on October 4-5, 2021.