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Business group forms council to help U.S. compete in South Africa

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A leading U.S. business group on Monday said it was creating a new body called the U.S.-South Africa Business Council as part of a broader effort to respond to increased competition throughout Africa from China, Europe and others.

"We need to elevate the business community's game in the continent. We have American investment there, but we have fallen behind frankly in the last 10 years," Myron Brilliant, senior vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said.

The initiative is the latest U.S. effort to make up lost ground in Africa, which this year is home to many of the fastest-growing economies in the world.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the continent in August and acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank just returned from a trip to South Africa and Kenya.

It also comes at a time when South Africa continues to struggle with high employment and widespread poverty, two decades after the end of the apartheid era that lifted people's hope for a better life.

"The goal of both countries is create jobs, among other things. Jobs and economic growth," U.S. Under Secretary of State Robert Hormats told Reuters. "We really see this (new council) as part of a two-way win-win process where we can strengthen trade ties and investment."

U.S. companies that invest in the South Africa, the biggest economy on the continent, will be in a better position to compete throughout Africa, Hormats said.

Charter members of the U.S.-South Africa Council include U.S. beverage giant Coca-Cola, engineering and construction firm Black & Veatch and drug manufacturer Eli Lilly and Co, as well as smaller firms such as Solar Reserve, a solar energy project development company.

U.S. companies see business opportunities in sectors such as mining, finance, communications, energy, transportation and infrastructure development, said Scott Eisner, vice president for African affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

"There has been in shift in thinking in corporate America towards Africa. The Chinese owned the better part of the last decade when it came to investment there" and got the attention of U.S. corporate and government leaders, Eisner said.

The U.S. business community will use the new council as a vehicle to get into other emerging markets in Africa, such as Mozambique with its plentiful natural gas resources and Botswana with its huge coal reserves, he said.

(Reporting By Doug Palmer; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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