By Stephen Lande
Washington, DC | When Stephen Hayes called to say that the Board had finally found a replacement for him as chief executive at the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA), I, alongside this very tight-knit U.S. – Africa business community were thrilled with the selection of Florizelle (Florie) Liser. And Florie will be the first one to tell you that this move from Assistant United States Trade Representative for Africa to CCA bears the fingerprints of a higher power. To this, I can only extend heartfelt congratulations to my good friend, knowing fully well that she will assuage a situation where everything, including the Washington guard is changing.
You see: while you may disagree, a dead Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and death knell to the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) mean that Americans and their partners in Africa must seek to enhance the natural, delicate dynamic between the world’s biggest economy, and the world’s fastest growing region. Africa’s demographic dividend means that the world, may, once again, beat a path to Africa’s doorstep for its vibrancy. In the same vein, in spite of various stumbling blocks, Africa’s steady progress towards a comprehensive continent-wide trade arrangement presages that an optimally performing African Economic Community shall significantly impact the not-too-distant future of global trade.
No one I know today understands the essence of these seminal things quite like Florie Liser does. Just ask Erastus Mwencha, out-going Deputy Chairperson of the African Union Commission, and he’ll concur. The Secretary General of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), Sindiso Ngwenya should also agree with this assessment; as shall a whole host of trade experts, business people and government officials, including her very good friend, Amina Mohammed, Kenya’s Foreign Secretary and current candidate for the African Union chairperson-ship.
Florie Liser is a pragmatist: she’s sensible, realistic, and won’t have patience for impracticality. Anyone who looks deep into those sagacious elfin eyes knows that she’d not make a world-class poker player. Florie does not have a poker face. What you see is what you get, and this face – a pleasant face with a ready smile to boot – is, probably what compels countless colleagues, partners and regular people to trust her.
Like her bio states, Florie’s role at USTR meant that for over a decade, she led America’s trade and investment efforts in sub-Saharan Africa; overseeing implementation the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA); heading interagency negotiation and implementation of several trade and investment agreements with sub-Saharan African nations. Speaking personally, Florie and I have a few disagreements. While I may call them disagreements, Florie could, in fact, suggest that ours are just different tactical maneuvers experts should not dwell upon. Nonetheless, she has never failed to pay me my full respect; patiently discussed my many ideas. I can guarantee you this attitude is not reflective of many civil servants around the world, and it will stand her well in the private sector. I must also hasten to state that in our ‘disagreements,’ Florie was mostly correct – particularly in those discussions about what was politically possible.
A few years ago, a small delegation, coordinated by Florie, undertook an emergency mission to an African Ministerial meeting and was, perhaps, the key to why Africa agreed to some sections of the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA). Working closely with the African Union’s indefatigable Commissioner Fatima Acyl, one could argue that the world is on the verge of implementing the TFA – saving Africa millions of dollars in wasted transaction expenses – because of Florie. My faith in Florie goes beyond her exemplary service both at USTR headquarters and at their GATT Affairs Office, the Department of Transportation and even at the Overseas Development Council (ODC). What may blow more wind into her sail is the level of concrete relationships she has successfully built across the Atlantic and beyond ever since her first days at the ODC in 1975.
As someone who broke the glass ceiling for women at the helm of CCA, Florie was always destined for bigger and better things. Born in Colon, Panama, Florie’s parents emigrated to the United States, raised a family in Brooklyn, New York and enthusiastically infused their brilliant daughter with a yearning for the world and a passion to reach for the stars. She has real bona fides in all things Africa, and personally, I can hardly wait for January 23, 2017 when her tenure at CCA commences. While Stephen Hayes, no doubt, had a tough task in transforming CCA to its current state, Florie must undertake the Aegean task of balancing trade policy with investment, private sector deals and the plethora of issues foreign direct investment to Africa can resolve. Florie has a Masters in International Economics from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), a B.A. in International Relations and Political Science from Dickinson College, and a set of parents resting in peace with pride.
Stephen Lande is President of Manchester Trade Limited, Inc. He has consulted for most of Africa’s building bloc regional economic communities, as well as the African Union. A seasoned trade negotiator, he was the first in the line of Assistant United States Trade Representatives. Mr. Lande is the co-author of the groundbreaking The Trade and Tariff Act of 1984. Reach him at [email protected] | + 1 202 415 1243.