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International Public Service and Outreach project aims to expand trade between Georgia and Kenya

Over the past few years, the ­Office of International Public Service and Outreach has been expanding the scope of its programming to add an applied focus to projects that had formerly been more research-based.

IPSO ­currently has projects on three continents. This winter, ­director Glenn Ames began co-administering a new project as part of the African Growth and Opportunities Act that will open up new markets to entrepreneurs in east ­Africa. He explained to Columns. 

Columns: What was the impetus for the AGOA grant?

Ames: This program is part of the Africa Initiative, which was launched in 2001 by [Vice President for Public Service and Outreach] Art Dunning and Dr. Lioba Moshi, director of the African Studies Institute. Essentially, the Africa Initiative is designed to build linkages with institutions of higher learning and governmental and non-governmental organizations in Africa.

Passage of the African Growth and Opportunities Act marked a paradigm shift in Washington’s thinking about sub-Saharan Africa. Both political parties recognize that trade and investment are essential to fostering development in the region. Opening up the U.S. market for eligible African goods generates employment and income in sub-Saharan Africa, while a more transparent business environment encourages direct foreign investment. Firms in Georgia need to be involved in both trade and investment with East African partners.

Columns: Why the decision to focus on economic development?

Ames: We wanted to strengthen partnerships with units that have expertise in international marketing, such as Business Outreach Services.

Columns: What is the scope of this project?

Ames: There are three phases. In the first phase, which we just completed, Kenyan entrepreneurs, trade associations and governmental representatives visited Georgia to learn more about U.S. consumer tastes and preferences. They also met with the international trade division of the Georgia Department of Agriculture and specialists at the Georgia Ports Authority and U.S. Customs in Savannah to become familiar with the trade ­regulations that govern the goods they want to sell in American ­markets. Georgia specialists in international marketing will travel to Kenya for the joint training of African entrepreneurs in export marketing in June. In late summer or early fall, a two-week trade mission will send six southeastern U.S. trade association executives and local business leaders to Kenya to expand and build upon business relationships developed during the earlier phases of the project.

We will be working with the same Kenyan participants-the Export Promotion Council, the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the Kenya Enterprise Networks, Fresh Produce Exporters Association, women’s organizations and handicraft centers-throughout the project because these umbrella organizations can reach a lot of their member firms and build ­linkages with U.S. importers and exporters.

Columns: How did you identify the Kenyan entrepreneurs to participate in the first part of the project?

Ames: Stephen Seda from the East Africa-American Business Council in Atlanta helped identify the Kenyan entrepreneurs from his contacts in the country. The Kenyan partners who were included in our proposal were those that represented exporters of coffee, tea, handicrafts and apparel with potential in the U.S. market.

Columns: How do you plan to identify the local businesspeople to participate in the later phases?

Ames: International ­commerce is based on comparative advantage and building lasting business relationships. Our Kenyan partners met with coffee roasters, cut- flower wholesalers and handicraft importers during their visit to Georgia. The most promising of these business contacts will be invited to participate in the final phase of the project.

Columns: How did you get started with finding importers for these products?

Ames: We contacted Marc Lipson in the Terry College of Business and Terrell Austin in the Center for International Trade and Security to offer internship opportunities for their students to assist in the research. The students compiled extensive marketing portfolios for each of the participants that included import/export information specific to their products, as well as marketing and retail information. It’s been a great opportunity for them to get research experience in international marketing and trade policy analysis.

Columns: Will you continue to involve students in later phases?

Ames: As we develop plans to lead local businessmen to Kenya, we will need the interns to collect data on the East African market and prepare marketing strategies for the trade mission.