Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today. Congratulations on your participation in MEPI’s prestigious training program. We are excited to have you here. I wish to applaud the members of this delegation for the tremendously important activities you undertake to promote bilateral trade and national economic development, foster entrepreneurship and women’s economic empowerment.
I commend the National U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce (NUSACC), the Middle East Partnership Initiative, and the Institut Pour le Développement Social et Économique (ISED solutions) for making this week’s business organizations leadership development program possible. I am confident that this week’s program will enrich participants’ capabilities to improve and expand services for your members, attract more members, and facilitate exchanges with economic and commercial policy makers.
A special thanks to the National U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce (NUSACC) for your recent successful trade and investment mission to Oman and Qatar. You have brought our business sectors closer together and promoted new trade opportunities for both sides. I am confident that Washington agencies and the American Embassies in Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia are pleased to work with all of your to support future missions to strengthen our commercial relations.
I would like to elaborate upon the U.S. economic assistance strategy for the Middle East and North Africa region that president Obama announced last month. I will also discuss how we in the State Department’s Economic and Business Bureau are working with leaders such as you to expand economic opportunity and business in the region.
The U.S. Assistance Strategy for the Region
On May 19, President Obama outlined concrete ways the United States will support nations in the MENA region. He stressed U.S. support for the basic rights of our Arab partners and for political and economic reform to meet the legitimate aspirations of ordinary people. He emphasized a focus on trade and investment as opposed to aid or assistance.
The United States has taken the following steps to implement this policy:
First, along with our G8 partners, the United States is encouraging active support from the international financial institutions, targeting both the short-term economic impact of recent political turmoil and laying the foundation for more inclusive, long-term development. The multilateral development banks are responding with generous financing. And the International Monetary Fund is providing critical advice and stands ready to provide financial support, as needed, to stabilize and modernize the economies of Tunisia and Egypt.
As I am sure you have heard, the United States plans to provide Egypt of up to $1 billion in debt and is working with our Egyptian partners to invest these resources to foster the creation of skills and jobs as well as entrepreneurship. We are also helping Egypt regain affordable access to capital markets by guaranteeing $1 billion in borrowing that is needed to finance infrastructure as well as job creation.
We are also working with our Parliament to create enterprise funds to invest in Tunisia and Egypt. These will be molded on successful funds that supported the transitions of Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin wall. And OPIC will soon launch a $2 billion facility to support private investment across the region.
We are also looking to work with the E.U. to look at ways to facilitate more trade within the region that goes beyond oil shipments. We would like to build on existing agreements, promote integration with the U.S. and European markets, and open the door for countries that adopt high standards and trade liberalization to construct a regional trade agreement.
We also support efforts to reorient the significant assets of European bank for reconstruction and development which played a key role in Eastern Europe so that it can work with the private sector in the Middle East and North Africa.
Finally, we will work with to support efforts to establish transparent, accountable administrations, fight corruption and establish more modern economic regulation.
Political Transformation Enhancing Economic Opportunity in the Private Sector
President Obama and Secretary Clinton have repeatedly stressed that economic transformation must be led by the countries in the region themselves. A substantial increase in the pace of economic growth is needed to expand economic opportunity and ensure that its benefits are broadly shared. This calls for policies that emerge from within countries to create space for the creation of new businesses and a stronger private sector.
The international community can contribute through technical assistance and reform recommendations. Our bureau is already engaged in the Maghreb to assist with these efforts. One key component of this strategy is through public-private partnerships by harnessing the knowledge and experience of those like your membership to improve the economic environment for businesses to thrive. We’ve already started this effort through the State Department’s Global Entrepreneurship Program (GEP), which marshals private and public-sector resources to establish in-country entrepreneurial systems.
GEP has initiated programs in Jordan, Lebanon and last year in Egypt which included business plan competitions with awards, seed-stage investments, new mentoring relationships, and the establishment of an entrepreneur-in-residence program in Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt. GEP now is planning programs in Morocco and Turkey later this year. We depend upon business leaders such as yourselves to give us the perspective, support and feedback necessary to ensure that these initiatives are legitimate and genuinely helpful for the economy.
In addition to entrepreneurship, the United States is exploring how we and our partners in the region might work together to improve the regional business climate and help countries generate the domestic resources needed to help them self-finance private sector development.
For example, Secretary Clinton recently announced a new domestic finance for development program during her speech at the OECD Ministerial Conference last month. We call it DF4D and it aims to work with partners to explore how countries can better mobilize domestic resources, improve transparency and mitigate corruption as a means for holding governments more accountable and cultivating better business environments.
Here in the United States, President Obama is leading by example through the U.S. Open Government Initiative, which includes commitments to fight corruption and promote transparency in all aspects of our government. We look forward to working with Tunisia and other countries to pledge similar commitments through an open government partnership.
Investment is also key for economic growth. We recently sent most of our top economic leaders in the Obama administration to the ministerial of the OECD. That organization is moving to work more closely with emerging economies including those in the MENA region, drawing on its deep expertise and talents.
To that end, I hope that business leaders such as yourself will encourage your respective governments to support and participate in the OECD’s Middle East and North Africa (MENA) investment program and the good governance for development initiative. The program has a strong record of looking at investment climates and can be drawn upon for assistance. Partnership between U.S. and Arab businesses are a powerful means of promoting development and shared prosperity because they catalyze investments in small and medium enterprises, infrastructure, and other key sectors.
As Arab business leaders, you face many challenges and new opportunities. Your participation here today is a testament to your entrepreneurial spirit and dedication. I am sure you will find many open doors and opportunities in your time here.
I hope my words here today have left you with reassurance on several points:
Thank you again for the opportunity to speak with you today.