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Diplomacy in Action

Assistant Secretary Blake's Participation in the U.S.-Turkmenistan Business Council


Remarks
Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
June 16, 2010

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Foreign Minister Meredov, Mr. Taganov, Members of the Diplomatic, Business and International Community, Distinguished members of the press, Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is a great honor and pleasure for me to be here today for this historic meeting. Today's events are part of a comprehensive high-level effort by the United States and the Government of Turkmenistan to expand and deepen our relations. I would like to congratulate His Excellency President Berdimuhamedov, Foreign Minister Meredov, and the Government of Turkmenistan on the very successful conclusion yesterday of the first Annual Bilateral Consultations between our two governments. These consultations marked a new chapter in the history of the bilateral relations between the United States and Turkmenistan. We are most grateful for the hospitality your nation has provided to our American delegation.

We feel that our two days of government-to-government meetings have set the stage for increased cooperation and engagement in a wide range of fields between Turkmenistan and the United States. Let me take this opportunity to thank the U.S.-Turkmen Business Council, its dynamic Executive Director Eric Stewart, and the 41 representatives of nine U.S. businesses who have done so much to organize today's landmark meeting. The numerous representatives of the U.S. business community present here today indicate Turkmenistan’s strong draw as a destination for increased foreign investment in many diverse sectors of its economy. Under President Berdimuhamedov’s leadership, the Government of Turkmenistan has placed great emphasis on increasing foreign investment, both in the energy and non-energy sectors. Indeed, the U.S. companies represented here today represent a broad range of economic sectors including, but not limited to, agriculture, energy, aviation, petrochemicals, and communications.

U.S. companies operate, invest and trade all over the world. Their presence can be seen in almost every country, including Turkmenistan. Those countries that offer a fair and transparent business environment, supported by the predictable application of non-discriminatory investment laws, have had the most success attracting U.S. and other investment.

Under President Berdimuhamedov, the Government of Turkmenistan has carried out several important economic reforms to attract foreign investment and enhance Turkmenistan’s business environment. A new investment law, effective since March 2008, exempts many duties and fees for foreign entrepreneurs, speeds up the process of issuing multi-entry visas, and provides compensation provisions in case of expropriation. It also dropped the requirement of joint ventures with Turkmen enterprises. The government’s unification of the country’s dual exchange rates has made Turkmenistan a more business-friendly environment and the redenomination of the manat has made cash-based commercial transactions easier, and thus, more regular and predictable as well. Turkmenistan’s Ministry of Finance and Central Bank have stepped up cooperation and exchanges with U.S., other foreign and multilateral financial institutions. This important step to introduce international best practices in the banking and finance sectors will also help make Turkmenistan a more transparent and secure investment environment. We welcome these recent efforts taken by the Government of Turkmenistan and view them as the beginning of an important and ongoing effort on economic reform.

Under President Berdimuhamedov’s guidance, the government has also sought to diversify its economy by attracting foreign investment from a variety of fields. The government has set a goal of increasing the non-hydrocarbon share of private sector GDP from 40% to 70% by 2020. To this effect, we feel that the recent law on “State Support for Small and Medium Enterprises” represents an important step. Such SMEs drive the U.S. economy – over 85 percent of our firms employ fewer than 20 people. While it takes time for such laws to fully take hold in society, we hope that the government’s protection and support of these businesses will be consistent with its goals for economic growth and diversification. We would be happy to explore the possibilities for a joint initiative that focuses on promoting small and medium enterprises in both countries.

Although an extremely important sector, energy is certainly not the only element of our bilateral cooperation, nor is it the only sector which attracts potential U.S. investors. Nevertheless, energy is one of the United States’ important commercial interests in the region. Turkmenistan’s energy sector has great promise in attracting substantial foreign investment in the coming years. The country’s energy resources represent enormous potential for investors, ranging from large international oil companies to small service providers. Many U.S. companies are very interested in Turkmenistan’s energy sector and several are already active in the sector. These companies strive to provide the Government of Turkmenistan with products, services, and expertise that will help Turkmenistan meet its future energy targets. The investment and sales generated by Turkmenistan’s energy sector have the potential to fuel substantial economic growth and diversification.

In the end, it is the people of Turkmenistan who form the country’s greatest asset, however. While factories and pipelines may come and go, the skills and entrepreneurial spirit of the Turkmen people will continue to be at the head of the Turkmen economy. One attribute that sets U.S. companies apart from some of their competitors is their willingness to invest in the human capital of the nation in which they work, including right here in Turkmenistan through training programs and partnerships with local businesses. We often refer to this as corporate social responsibility- though for many U.S. companies, it is simply common sense and good business practice. President Berdimuhamedov has identified the “human factor” as the most important aspect of Turkmenistan’s future economic growth and development. In this sense, U.S. companies are well-placed to play a role in fulfilling the President’s Economic Strategy of “Relying on the People, for the Sake of the People”.

U.S. companies are increasingly entering into Public-Private Partnerships in the countries in which they operate. Public-Private Partnerships combine the skills, resources and expertise of private companies with the needs and goals of public institutions. This is an area in which U.S. companies can share their sense of entrepreneurship and innovation. Public Private Partnerships often lead to expansion of relatively new economic sectors and build technical capacity. They can also lead to the creation or expansion of small businesses in their sector. In short, Public Private Partnerships are a form of mutually beneficial cooperation. They are also one of the many ways in which U.S. companies may partner with Turkmen institutions and entities to help build the future of Turkmenistan.

In conclusion, we believe there are many opportunities to explore as our bilateral commercial cooperation expands. We thank President Berdimuhamedov and the people of Turkmenistan for opening the door to this inaugural business mission from the United States. We – the Government of the United States and American business -- want to be full partners in facilitating Turkmenistan’s ambitious “New Renaissance” or “Taze Galkynesh.” We Americans are known for setting high goals for ourselves, for our optimism and for achieving success through hard work and persistence. That is why I would submit America is a premier partner for Turkmenistan as it embarks on its own ambitious program of development and renewal. These meetings are only the beginning of increased mutually beneficial cooperation and collaborative work in everything ranging from agricultural production equipment to textiles to energy cooperation. I wish all participants a successful business event today, assure you the U.S. government will remain an active supporter of your efforts, and thank you again for the warm welcome here in Turkmenistan.



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