On August 4th, the Obama administration will make history. This date marks the first US-Africa Leaders Summit and the first time a US President has held a bilateral meeting with roughly fifty African heads of state. The inaugural Summit’s theme, “Investing in the Next Generation,” centers the three day event on building trade and investment relations, the promotion of democratic development, and America’s role in African security.

Many Americans believe that the United States is already committed enough to the social, economic, and security development of Africa. Some argue that little more could be done than what is being done already. To them, this Summit will be just another high profile meet and greet—handshakes, vague resolutions, and a lack of concrete, actionable steps that will all be forgotten when the summit concludes.

Thankfully, this isn’t the case.

On August 4th, the Obama administration will make history. This date marks the first US-Africa Leaders Summit and the first time a US President has held a bilateral meeting with roughly fifty African heads of state. The inaugural Summit’s theme, “Investing in the Next Generation,” centers the three day event on building trade and investment relations, the promotion of democratic development, and America’s role in African security.

Many Americans believe that the United States is already committed enough to the social, economic, and security development of Africa. Some argue that little more could be done than what is being done already. To them, this Summit will be just another high profile meet and greet—handshakes, vague resolutions, and a lack of concrete, actionable steps that will all be forgotten when the summit concludes.

Thankfully, this isn’t the case. Yes, the US is heavily invested in the African continent, but it has not fully realized its capabilities as a partner with Africa. A US-Africa Summit, if done correctly, will concentrate US-African relations to a level of effectiveness which we have not yet achieved.

The US is actually behind much of the world when it comes to trade engagements with Africa—by at about14 years. Japan, China, and the EU have established similar summits since the beginning of the new millennium (1993, in the case of Japan). These nations have all learned the same lesson—a summit for dialogue between the top leaders has served as a catalyst for the growth in their mutual prosperity.

In 2000, the EU signed the Contonou Agreement—the most comprehensive agreement between the EU and developing countries. The Contonou Agreement recognizes the necessity of regional development in the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of states for the future of the global economy. EU-Africa Summits were established alongside the Contonou Agreement, to ensure efficient and high level communication between leadership. These summits have helped Africa and the EU find a defined voice and make significant strides within a relatively short amount of time.

In the past month, the EU and two groups of African nations established Economic Partnership Agreements. Members of the Southern African Development Community (Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Swaziland) and sixteen West African nations have now established free trade mechanisms with the EU, as well as permanent protection of the most sensitive 20 percent of their local goods. These agreements are designed to address concerns of the geographic regions and promote healthy development into the world economy.

One of the most widely publicized international relationships is the partnership between China and Africa. Indeed, China’s Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) has proven itself as among the most important forums to shape geopolitics in the 21st century. Since the inaugural FCOAC, China has surpassed the US as the top trade partner with African nations.

For China, the future of its food security especially is a major incentive to partner with Africa. The Forum has helped African nations increase trade activity exponentially, achieving a 7000 percent jump in Chinese FDI to the continent between 2003 and 2008, and increasingly utilizing Chinese expertise for industrialization. Unfortunately, there has also been some unbalance in the trade relations. The FOCAC preferences that China grants to African Distribution Companies do not offset or overcome nontariff barriers and only serve to promote the export of raw materials. These exports help to build local economies, but they do not directly provide for total free trade.

There are still significant opportunities for the United States to improve the development landscape in Africa. Where the EU and China bring in much needed development, in practice, their efforts are not reaching all of Africa equally. While the EU is making progress on its regional development goals, and China is bringing high demand to the African economies, more can still be done. As it stands now, the US FDI to Africa is made up of just one percent of the worldwide total – but that is already more than the total amount of FDI China invests in the continent.

The next step for the United States as a global leader for Africa takes place at the summit on August 4th. If the US leadership can build a sustainable model for future summits, we should hope for – and expect – a streamlined, mutually beneficial program to encourage rapid development across African nations.