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Advising, facilitating and creating business opportunities for US companies abroad

Interview - April 20, 2015

The Worldfolio sat down with Julia Rauner Guerrero, Senior Commercial Officer of the U.S. Department of Commerce International Trade Administration, to discuss how they provide business counseling and market assessments to interested US companies to strengthen trade ties and help promote economic growth and opportunity in Angola.


Can you tell us about the role of the US Department of Commerce here in Angola?

The U.S. Department of Commerce is one of the agencies of the U.S. Embassy in Angola. We opened in January 2015 so are very new and are in the process of establishing our staff. I come to my role as Senior Commercial Officer having served in Washington DC, Brazil, and most recently in California. We are growing to a five-person team specifically dedicated to helping U.S. companies expand their sales and establish business partnerships in Angola. The U.S. Department of Commerce – Commercial Service is an export-promotion agency of the U.S. Government, with offices across the United States and U.S. Embassies and Consulates in more than 75 countries. Our mandate is to expand U.S. exports toward the benefit of the U.S. economy from a sales expansion perspective which in turn has a positive effect on U.S. production and employment. Strengthening trade ties with countries such as those in Africa also helps promote economic growth and opportunity in those countries.   

The opening of U.S. Commercial Service Angola is part of a broader Africa strategy of the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Government. Last year, President Obama focused significant visibility on Africa. The U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit was a highlight of that effort and also featured a major business forum of U.S. and African business leaders. This reflects the high priority the U.S. Government places on Africa in important areas of economy, security and trade. Until now, the U.S. Commercial Service had Sub-Saharan African offices in Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa and Ghana. This year, we have doubled our presence in the region with four new offices in Angola, Mozambique, Tanzania and Ethiopia.  That is a major dedication of resources reflecting what we see as good business potential in these countries and the region, which we feel had been under served.

Many U.S. companies still lack a deep understanding of the opportunities and the complexity of the African continent. Part of our role with the U.S. Commercial Service in Angola is to identify these opportunities, bring them to the U.S. company’s attention, and facilitate introductions by pre-screening the best prospective  local business partners. These efforts are paramount to helping U.S. firms grow their international sales. 

In addition to providing market information and helping U.S. companies find and qualify business partners, we create business opportunities as well. Depending on the market, we assist the organization of USA Pavilions at trade shows and develop customized, company-specific technical seminars or promotional events to assist and increase U.S. company visibility in target markets.

When working with U.S. companies, the U.S. Commercial Service will spend quite a bit of time ascertaining the firm’s export potential so as to guide them to export markets with the greatest potential. This process typically starts with U.S. Commercial Service Trade Specialists located throughout the United States that advise U.S. companies on international business strategies and connects them to our international offices. Here in Angola, we are receiving strong U.S. company interest as well as Angolan company demand for U.S. suppliers in a range of sectors, including agricultural, healthcare, energy generation, information technology; and of course oil and gas, which continues to be an important area for U.S. companies in Angola. We promote the world-class quality and innovation of U.S. goods and services, and their strong reputation for customer service and training, to generate demand from the Angolan clients. Currently, the U.S. only supplies 8% of total Angolan imports so there is lots of room for growth. Angolan companies are eager to see more U.S. companies supply the market directly from the United States rather than through their distributors in South Africa or Portugal which they feel increases costs and delivery delays. CS Angola receives frequent requests from Angolan companies who are seeking specific types of U.S. technologies and equipment, particularly in a context of the country’s economic diversification efforts to build agricultural and manufacturing capacity and increase efficiencies. We are here to help facilitate these introductions.

After the US - Africa summit, have you seen a boost in terms of interest from U.S. companies coming here?

I would say yes, definitely, the Summit and Business Forum definitely raised U.S. company awareness about Africa. It especially struck me how even many large U.S. companies still lack a very deep Africa strategy. I personally worked with several aerospace companies from the California area who are prioritizing Sub-Saharan Africa for new business growth and to round out their presence in other parts of the world.

Private companies from the United States and around the world assess business opportunities from a global competitiveness perspective. For many years U.S. companies focused heavily on China and India for new business growth. I now see Africa as a new wave of U.S. business interest. Not just large U.S. companies but also medium size firms that make up the bulk of our new U.S. export growth can have excellent potential in Africa. The target clients of the U.S. Commercial Service are generally competitive in their industries in the United States and usually have at least some prior experience exporting.

For medium-sized U.S. companies, I would definitely argue that Africa holds strong potential for business in the leading prospect areas of opportunity. Getting a handle on Africa and determining where to focus can be daunting due to the many diverse countries, cultures, languages, and level of development throughout Africa, but the U.S. Commercial Service is on standby to assist U.S. companies with this assessment. That support starts with the U.S. Commercial Service’s U.S-based offices located in 108 U.S. cities with trade specialist advisors who can provide advice and coordinate with worldwide offices for specialized assistance.  A list of these U.S. offices and trade experts can be found at

To assist U.S. companies explore business in Africa, the U.S. Commercial Service is hosting two major events coming up this year:

Middle East and Africa Business Outlook Conference in Dubai, May 27-28, 2015 with an opportunity to meet  Senior U.S. Commercial Officers from 20 countries and to gain expert market positioning insights. For more details, visit:

Trade Winds Africa September 14-21, 2015 features a major business conference in South Africa with individual business advising by Senior Commercial and Economic Officers from 27 Sub-Saharan African countries, with optional trade mission spin off visits to up to two of eight Commercial Services countries – Angola, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, and South Africa. Ethiopia For more information, visit:

How do you select the local Angolan companies for business-to-business meetings?

First, we provide business counseling and market assessments to the interested U.S. companies to help them determine if Angola is a market that makes sense for their business. We recognize that U.S. companies are constantly weighing priorities as to which overseas markets to pursue. Our U.S. Commercial Service’s worldwide network assists with this process, starting with our U.S.–based Trade Specialists (Find the office closest to you at

How do we screen the Angolan companies? By getting to know them. We visit leading Angolan companies and receive their business requests and determine their business capacities and interests. For a U.S. company seeking an Angolan business partner, we provide a customized service to meet the U.S. company’s criteria and evaluate the Angolan business candidates against that. We offer an array of services with our featured service – the Gold Key Business Matchmaking Service that involves several months of work with a U.S. company and results in a full day program of pre-screened business meetings with the top business prospects that meet the U.S. company’s criteria and business objectives. Please see details on CS Services at:

As you can see, our work is really customized at an individual U.S. company level and at the same time at the Angolan company level because we need to confirm that mutual interests are harmonized. Our role is to bring the companies together and then remain available to provide any needed advice toward a business success.

They also need to know about the local content here as well because when they come they need to make sure that their business is supported.

All governments worldwide promote their country as an investment destination and facilitate this process. The Select USA program is our U.S. Government’s effort toward this goal. (Details at  We applaud Angolan Government efforts at streamlining their investment regulations and procedures and encourage continued efforts to create a predictable and transparent business environment. The work of the U.S. Commercial Service in Angola and around the world is to help U.S. companies meet their business goals, which most often require finding a quality business partner in the target country. When we talk about partnerships, we are referring to sales and technical support partnerships. Angolan companies share their frustration at the lack of customer service, after-sales support and training from some other international suppliers, and are eager to have higher quality solutions in the market that we know U.S companies can provide.

Can you tell us about the US presence and the contingent of businesses coming here for the trade mission?

The Trade Winds trade mission to Angola will be a spin-off from a large 150-200 U.S. company conference in South Africa. US companies will select up to two of eight countries to visit before and after the conference for trade mission meetings. For Angola and our other new offices, we are limiting this delegation to 5 companies with the strongest market potential due to the time intensive work of developing customized business schedules for each of them designed to each company’s individual business goals. So far, we have interest from companies in the areas of healthcare, energy generation, agribusiness, and aerospace, among others.

We would like to talk about how the reform of the foreign investment flow is going to affect the small and medium enterprises, especially with the increase in minimum capital requirement.

As indicated in the previous question, the U.S. Commercial Service does not focus our business promotional efforts on outbound U.S. investment into foreign countries; however we do track the regulations and report on these regularly for interested U.S. companies. Most U.S. companies do not expand their business through outbound investment but rather by providing their expertise, technology and equipment to companies around the world. Some industries such as oil and gas rely on overseas investment and operations and this industry certainly holds an important role for U.S. companies investing in Angola. The U.S. Embassy looks out for all U.S. interests overseas with a special focus on U.S. companies operating in the country.  

When you talk about some companies not being ready for Angola, how do certain US companies look at the various barriers here like local infrastructure and corruption?

In general, there is a lack of awareness about Angola and more broadly about Sub-Saharan Africa among many U.S. businesses, which is why we dedicate significant resources to business outreach and information dissemination. In April, I was pleased to present a webinar briefing on Angola to over 50 U.S. companies in a range of industries. This was part of the Trade Winds webinar series and recorded versions on Angola and other countries are still available at: This year we also are holding the two major Africa business conferences in Dubai and in South Africa that I referenced previously. In general, U.S. companies already experienced doing business around the world including in other developing markets would have a greater potential for success in a market like Angola.  I strongly recommend that companies already focusing on Africa with distribution in South Africa and/or Nigeria consider adding Angola to their business strategies since it ranks as the third largest economy in the region with a relatively high GDP per capita of US$6000. In terms of the Angola business climate, the Angolan government states their commitment to creating a more transparent and predictable business environment and that will certainly draw more business attention. Global business is very competitive and ease of doing business and predictable regulations together with strong business opportunities draw the attention of international companies.

In the few months that you have been in Angola, what can you tell us about the potential of the market, and what would you say is the one goal that you hope to achieve during your tenure?

Obviously, there is a lot of business potential for U.S. companies in Angola. Goals for my  two-year assignment are to build a strong Commercial Service Angola team to assist U.S. companies and to contribute to our U.S.-Angola bilateral relationship in the area of business development and trade. We are taking a strategic approach toward making an impact in leading industries where we see strong business and participation potential from leading edge U.S. companies in sectors such as energy generation, healthcare, agribusiness, information technology, aerospace and maritime security, and transportation/logistics. Already, we have organized an Angolan business delegation to attend the Offshore Technology Conference, the world’s leading offshore oil and gas show, in Houston this May 2015 where we will be arranging business to business meetings for these Angolan oil service providers to meet U.S. companies and introduce new U.S. technology and services in Angola. Later this year, we will be bringing another delegation for an agri-business visit to the Midwest United States to meet with farmers and equipment suppliers that can assist in increasing the capacity and productivity of Angola’s agricultural production.

As a new Commercial Service office, we have a lot of work ahead to assist U.S. companies in this dynamic market. It is a very exciting time for business in Angola and I feel very privileged to be in this position.