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Trade to dominate as Obama extends hand to Africa leaders

WASHINGTON--U.S. President Barack Obama will welcome African leaders at an unprecedented summit in Washington on Monday with all eyes on the continent as it battles the worst outbreak of the Ebola virus in history.

Forging stronger economic ties between the United States and Africa is the main aim of the three-day summit, with U.S. officials keen to boost links with a continent projected by the International Monetary Fund to see 5.8 percent growth in 2014.

While the focus is on trade, with Obama last year describing Africa as “the world's next major economic success story,” Washington has also vowed to ensure issues such as security, governance and human rights are on the agenda.

The United States currently lags in third place in the trade standings with Africa, far behind the European Union in first and China in second.

The White House insists that its initiative is in no way a belated response to China's growing investment and influence across the continent over the past decade.

It is clear, however, that China's emergence in Africa is at the forefront of American minds.

“My advice to African leaders is to make sure that if, in fact, China is putting in roads and bridges, number one, that they're hiring African workers; number two, that the roads don't just lead from the mine to the port to Shanghai, but that there's an ability for the African governments to shape how this infrastructure is going to benefit them in the long term,” Obama said in an interview with The Economist on Friday.

The extension of AGOA, the U.S. program that grants commercial advantages to certain African products, and “Power Africa,” a scheme to double access to electricity to sub-Saharan Africa will also figure in discussions.

Drawing up a list of invites for the summit has proved delicate. Only four nations were left off the guest list — the Central African Republic, Eritrea, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

Nevertheless, the longtime leaders of Equatorial Guinea (Teodoro Obiang Nguema), Cameroon (Paul Biya) and Angola (Jose Eduardo dos Santos) have all received an invitation.

Human Rights Watch urged Obama to raise the issue of human rights, particularly in the case of Equatorial Guinea's Nguema.

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