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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

38th Annual Convention of the National Conference of Black Mayors

Reta Jo Lewis
Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs 
Atlanta, GA
June 2, 2012


Good morning and thank you Vanessa for that very kind introduction. I am a native of Georgia and it is nice to come home to see old friends and meet new ones in a forum of enlightened leaders from near and far who are living the theme of this year’s conference: "Thinking Globally and Acting Locally." Practicing just this theme, I arrived in Atlanta late last night after a week in Turkey where I accompanied Georgia Governor Deal and his delegation of public and private leaders on a bilateral trade mission. Indeed global is the new local.

I would like to begin this morning by congratulating all of you for coming together in this forum. Later on today, I am going to talk a little about some innovative work we are doing in the Administration of President Barack Obama, specifically at the State Department, under the leadership of Secretary Clinton, where we are facilitating unprecedented connections between state and local leaders from around the world. But right now it is important to acknowledge the work you are doing by coming together in this forum to discuss problems, exchange ideas, and learn from each other best practices and next practices. President Obama has stated that local communities and regions are the building blocks of a nation’s economy. Indeed, the work you are each doing as the leaders of your economies is important to the nation’s competitiveness. Thank you for participating, for creating partnerships, and for all the hard work each and every one of you does, every day, to improve the lives of your citizens.

21st Century Diplomacy

Today, the world faces a unique set of challenges -- economic, environmental, social, and political –- that require collaborative innovation and the determination of our world’s best leaders. The world has changed very quickly under our feet and before our eyes, from revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa, to renewed fears over economic default in Europe.

Over the last three years, the United States has ended one war, and we have begun to wind down another. We are affirming our place as a Pacific power. We are strengthening our alliance with our European and NATO partners. We are elevating the role of economics and development within U.S. diplomacy to help create jobs here at home and to advance our strategic interests around the world. And of course, we are reaching beyond governments to engage directly with stakeholders from across the public, private spectrum.

The Obama Administration is convinced of the need to seize this moment, to meet these challenges, and to lay the foundation for sustained global leadership in a rapidly changing world increasingly linked and transformed by new technologies.

At the same time, urbanization is occurring at an unprecedented rate, especially in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Fifty-two percent of the earth’s population now lives in cities. Every week one million people move to cities. Continued rapid urbanization will lead to three billion new urban dwellers.

Global partnerships that put aside individual philosophies and focus on solutions are essential to solving these global challenges and to building a more stable and secure world.

Secretary Clinton has stated time and time again that 21st century global challenges require us to work with new partners to collaborate and innovate globally. At the Department of State, this has meant making a transition to 21st Century Statecraft, a strategy for creating partnerships for achieving modern diplomatic goals by engaging all the elements of our national power and leveraging all forms of our strength.

As Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton has said, and as the United States has long maintained, U.S. foreign policy relationships will always be nation-to-nation. But the scope of what defines nation-to-nation conversations are shifting in the modern, more global, and more flattened economy – deeming city-to-city, and state-to-state dialogues just as critical to the larger context of executing, implementing, and achieving a nation’s overarching diplomatic goals.

Building these peer-to-peer relationships can be invaluable. Unfortunately, this value is often ignored within government and in foreign policy when in fact peer-to-peer relationships between state and local elected officials have a tremendous effect on foreign policy while serving as a reliable catalyst for sustainable economic development.

Building relationships, creating partnerships, and working together to engage at the subnational level have limitless potential as a public diplomacy tool.

Peer-to-peer relationships give subnational leaders from around the globe an intimate glance into the American way of life, and more importantly, into our democratic institutions and system of governance. Even at a more basic but equally important level, these interactions develop trust—an attribute essential to developing strong bilateral ties.

Secretary Clinton has made it a priority to engage subnational leaders in the United States and abroad as extraordinary sources of innovation, talent, resources, and knowledge. After all, it is the cities that are the engines of growth at the ground level where the transition from policy to practice becomes most visible.

Therefore, a little over two years ago, Secretary Clinton created the Office of Global Intergovernmental Affairs emphasizing the utilization of our local leaders as a key component in the much-needed widespread and deep-rooted efforts to take on our world’s greatest challenges. A key part of that charge is empowering subnational officials to lead their states and communities to a stable and secure future.

My job is to realize Secretary Clinton’s vision by connecting what the Federal Government does best with what state and local governments are doing and can do, and what our successful private sector is doing and can do. We have launched partnerships with China, India, and Brazil and are looking toward Turkey, South Africa, and Russia to strengthen subnational economic and cultural networks.

S/SRGIA Accomplishments

So, just as Secretary Clinton engages in important bilateral discussions with her counterparts, so too does our office engage in pivotal conversations on a range of issues with mayors from around the world.

Earlier this year, during President Rousseff’s visit to Washington, Secretary Clinton and Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota highlighted the importance of our 21st century partnership. As the two largest, most diverse democracies in the Western Hemisphere, we are committed to exploring and implementing new joint approaches to the opportunities and challenges we face.

It is imperative that we strengthen and deepen our economic ties while honoring our commitments to democratic values and ensuring that citizens at all levels of our societies prosper. “The policies we embrace and the investments that we make will shape our shared future, and we are developing strong habits of partnership and cooperation.” She noted that this is not a job solely for the Federal Government. These important partnerships are taking place between our private sectors, our universities, our civil societies, and our state and local governments.

That same day, the Secretary and the Foreign Minister signed a Memorandum of Understanding to Support State and Local Cooperation, which formally encourages U.S. and Brazilian subnational governments to bolster trade and investment, share ideas and best practices, and advance local priorities, while contributing to the friendship and mutual understanding between Brazil and the United States. The agreement affirms the resolve of the United States and Brazil to strengthen and deepen cooperation between our respective subnational entities, and encourages peer-to-peer exchanges between subnational officials. Our mutual aim is to provide a framework for encouraging broad-based inclusive economic growth and engagement that will result in tangible and enduring benefits for states, cities, and local entities. As the Secretary highlighted, we share a common goal with Brazil, which is to work toward creating economic opportunity, a system in which everyone has a fair chance to compete.

The agreement was inspired by existing efforts of our respective state and local government to engage in cooperative activities; and, by the various consultations I have had with subnational and federal officials in both countries, who recognize the important role that exchanges play in our growing bilateral partnership.

Since January, I have traveled to 11 Brazilian cities and states to expand relationships between U.S. mayors and governors and their counterparts in Brazil and encourage collaboration in areas of mutual interest, such as: education, cultural and technical exchange, economic growth, sustainable development, democracy, social inclusion, and preparation for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games. In each of the cities I visited, I was met with incredible enthusiasm.

As a result, exchanges between Brazilian and U.S. subnational entities have become more numerous and robust in recent months. However, let me just say that Georgia has been a pioneer of subnational relationships with Brazil for quite a long time. Atlanta and Rio de Janeiro have enjoyed a Sister-Cities relationship since 1972, President Jimmy Carter initiated a partnership with the state of Pernambuco when he was governor of Georgia, in 2008, Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle led a trade delegation to three Brazilian cities to explore alternative fuel partnership opportunities.

A great of example of “Working Together Works” can be found right here in Atlanta, with the partnership between Fulton County, Georgia and the State of Bahia, Brazil. Chairman John Eaves, from Fulton County, and Bahia Governor Jaques Wagner have worked tirelessly over the last year to build this relationship, and just two weeks ago signed an agreement.

Through this agreement, Bahia – which hosts the 2014 World Cup - will increasingly look to Metro Atlanta to learn best practices from the 1994 Super Bowl. Bahia is a vibrant economic, arts, and culture center, making it a fitting partner for cooperation on economic development and tourism; public health; youth development and education; arts and culture, and social inclusion and human rights.

Collaborations at the local level such as these, are contributing to the progress of U.S.-Brazil bilateral trade and investment, and creating jobs for our citizens. However, I echo the sentiment expressed by Secretary Clinton: there is much more to do. In order to address the needs of a 21st century workforce, we must innovate together more than ever before.

Presidents Obama and Rousseff share a commitment to an innovative U.S.-Brazil education partnership, which is why they have launched groundbreaking education initiatives. President Rousseff’s Science without Borders program will send 100,000 Brazilian students to the world’s top universities to study in the STEM fields. 700 of those students have already begun their studies here in the United States. This program complements President Obama’s 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative which will increase the number of Latin American and Caribbean students in the United States to 100,000 each year, and send 100,000 American students to the region over the next 10 years as well.

As the United States leverages its unique strengths to meet the complex challenges of this global economy, we must also look to the Asia-Pacific region; it is home to half of the world’s population, several of our most trusted allies, emerging economic powers like China and India, and Indonesia, and several of the most active trade and energy routes in the world. In this vast region, we are investing in a strong network of institutions and partnerships. U.S. exports to the region are helping drive our economic recovery here at home; and we must further engage Asia’s growing middle class in order to ensure future growth. The shape of the global economy, the expansion of democracy and human rights, and our hopes for a 21st Century more peaceful than the 20thcentury depend upon developments in Asia.

As a result, we have stepped up our engagement with countries and institutions in what Secretary Clinton calls “forward deployed diplomacy.” Just look at China, and the expanding trade between our nations, the connections between our peoples, the ongoing consultations between our governments at the federal and local levels. From the first days of the Obama Administration, America’s foreign policy has reflected the Asia Pacific’s growing importance. President Obama has traveled to the Western Pacific four times. Secretary Clinton broke with tradition and made her first overseas trip there as Secretary. My first overseas trip as the Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs was also to China.

It is incredible to think about how far the U.S. and China have come in less than 35 years. We’ve gone from being two nations with no diplomatic ties to a mutually important, interdependent relationship. This shift requires both sides to adjust our thinking and our approach. In order to successfully build a peaceful, prosperous Asia Pacific, we must succeed in building and nurturing an effective U.S.-China relationship.

To further this aim, I have led the effort to broaden and deepen our bilateral ties with China at the subnational level. Secretary Clinton and her counterpart, Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Yang Jiechi signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) supporting U.S. - China subnational cooperation on January of 2011. This MOU encouraged the establishment of a U.S. - China Governors Forum to be co-convened by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC).

Last July, I led the U.S. Government delegation to Salt Lake City for the launch of the Governors Forum, which generated a historic cooperation among state, federal, business, and academic communities. U.S. Governors from 24 states participated, and the Forum resulted in the signing of over 20 agreements related to business, education, and the environment.

Again, I cannot stress enough what a vital partner Georgia has been in our efforts to carry out 21st century diplomacy. In October 2011 Governor Nathan Deal and five other U.S. Governors traveled to Beijing to meet with eight Chinese Provincial Leaders - the first gathering of this kind in China. They discussed issues such as job creation, competitiveness, trade and investment, energy and education, and explored new investment opportunities.

Governor Deal and his delegation, which included the CEO of Coca-Cola, visited several cities and met with leaders and corporations, including Sany Group, which has invested $60 million in Peachtree City, Georgia. Sany Group plans to invest $25 million more in the State of Georgia, and to hire 300 engineers over the next five years.

Most recently, Mayor Kasim Reed signed a Memorandum of Understanding in May with the Mayor of Shenzhen, China to promote exchanges between Shenzhen and Atlanta in the fields of business, trade, science, technology, renewable energy, culture, tourism, education, sports, medical services and personnel. Both mayors are supporting joint project research and development amongst local scientists. This agreement is truly valuable to the continuation of good relations between China and the United States.

Mayor Reed and a delegation from Invest Atlanta and the Metro Atlanta Chamber traveled throughout China, encouraging foreign direct investment in the metro Atlanta region and identifying opportunities for local Atlanta businesses in China. Although Mayor Reed is not a Morehouse man, he is certainly a smart man, let me tell you. He wants to position Atlanta as an international city and build strategic relationships with other global cities.

We are truly excited that leaders like Governor Deal, Chairman Eaves, and Mayor Reed are taking such bold and innovative steps to position the Georgia, Fulton County, and Atlanta residents to reap the benefits of global growth.

Economic Statecraft

Secretary Clinton firmly believes that America’s foreign policy can champion U.S. businesses abroad and drive recovery here at home, and also help provide a strong foundation and effective economic tools that can strengthen and sustain America’s global leadership.

Given the Department of State’s far-reaching work overseas, she asked the Department leadership to identify ways to use our platforms and relationships abroad to strengthen the connection between diplomacy and economics. In other words, she asked the Department of State to answer the question of what we can do for business.

In furtherance of this agenda, Secretary Clinton hosted the first-ever Global Business Conference at the Department of State in February. Over 200 private sector representatives from more than 120 countries met with senior U.S. Government officials to focus on regional issues and how we can move forward together to seize opportunities, grow the global economy, and create American jobs.

These issues have not always been a traditional focus for the State Department. So why, you might ask, is the Secretary of State now spending as much time thinking about market swings as missile silos?

Well, to put it very plainly, Americans need jobs. And every $1 billion of goods we export supports more than 5,000 jobs here at home – even more in industries like telecommunications and aerospace. That is why President Obama announced the National Export Initiative in his 2010 State of the Union address and set the ambitious goal of doubling America’s exports by the end of 2014. And, we are very proud that we now expect to hit that target ahead of schedule.

As you know, Foreign Direct Investment or FDI is an important vehicle for jobs creation and other economic activity in both urban and rural communities in the United States and other countries. The United States has over $2 trillion of FDI which supports over 6 million direct jobs and many more secondary jobs. This is why President Obama signed an Executive Order in 2011 creating SelectUSA, the first government-wide initiative to attract FDI to the United States. This initiative was designed and headed by my Senior Advisor Barry Johnson who is here today. The State Department considers the attraction of FDI into U.S. states and communities as an important activity of Economic Statecraft.

We also understand that America’s economic strength and our global leadership are a package deal. You’re not going to have one without the other. Our power in the 21st century depends not just on the size of our military but also on what we grow, how well we innovate, what we make, and how effectively we sell.

We fundamentally believe that increasing trade and growing prosperity will benefit not just our own people, but people everywhere. Our economies are interdependent as never before. America’s economic renewal depends to a large degree on the strength of the global economy, and the global economy depends on the strength of America.

Secretary Clinton has made “Jobs Diplomacy” a priority mission at the State Department, with the clear goal of being the most effective diplomatic champions for prosperity and growth.


Finally today I would like to spend a couple of minutes talking to you about the upcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainability Development (Rio+20), which will be held in Rio de Janeiro this July.

I mentioned earlier in my speech that the world is urbanizing at an unprecedented rate. For the first time in human history most of the world’s population lives in cities and this has serious consequences for all of us.

Rio+20, as the conference is known, is about the future. The United States believes that Rio+20 should be a different kind of meeting, one that transforms the multilateral approach to sustainable development and incorporates its concepts across all sectors. It is our hope that Rio+20 will be truly inclusive of a broad collection of stakeholders, including state and local officials, civil society, and the private sector. States and cities do not face a choice between green and growth: they CAN and MUST pursue both. There is no “one-size-fits-all” model for implementing sustainability, and strategies will differ across regions as they do across countries. However, we firmly believe that local government leadership bears the fundamental responsibility to support urban sustainability.

Cities across the United States have adopted comprehensive sustainability programs, and in the process are transforming themselves to greener and more efficient urban centers. Increasingly, cities are using sustainability management systems to prioritize investment decisions that enhance their “triple bottom line” – be it large metropolitan areas like New York’s “PlaNYC” or Chicago’s “Climate Action Plan,” or small cities like Fort Collins, Colorado’s “Sustain Fort Collins” or Austin, Texas’ “Climate Action Plan.” This disciplined approach is working – with savings ranging from $2 billion through New York’s Green Infrastructure Plan to $500,000 saved by Fort Collins’ pavement recycling program.

An example of our international efforts to cooperatively address the urbanization challenge is the Joint Initiative on Urban Sustainability or JIUS, announced last March by President Obama and President Rousseff. This bilateral public-private initiative will provide a showcase for financial, physical and digital innovation that is transferable to cities in the United States and around the world. The United States and Brazil, by capturing measurable economic, environmental and health benefits of green investment, aim to show leadership in the importance of sustainable city scale investment in research and development, clean energy and energy efficiency, and sustainable planning.

Another fundamental message that the United States is bringing to Rio is the importance of good governance if we are to achieve a sustainable future. We need governance at all levels to be open and transparent, with robust channels for public participation, to better engage citizens and build new networks across all sectors of our societies. We encourage governments to adapt and implement policies for access to information, and to work to build public/private partnerships so that the achievements in building a sustainable future will be long-lasting.

We hope to make Rio a celebration of the new and innovative technologies that not only bring us closer as a community, but can help us solve global challenges in ways unimaginable 20 years ago. We have evolving means to stimulate international action that go beyond traditional models for global cooperation centered on government-to-government meetings and formal institutions. The use of social media and connection technologies is making the world more inclusive. These advances can help achieve more rapid action on sustainable development, at lower cost, with more inclusive stakeholder participation ranging from women, youth, and civil society groups to nongovernmental organizations, small business, large industries, and private sector finance institutions.

So again, organizing subnational relationships promotes a deeper cultural exchange among nations, advances principles of openness, freedom transparency and fairness in economic growth, and assists in the creation of a sustainable future.

In a 21st century world, there are no shortages of great partnerships, nor shortages of great ideas when we shore up our collective will to address the challenges we face.

By combining our strengths, we can more than double our impact to this subnational end. And the multiplier effect continues if we add philanthropies, businesses, NGOs, universities and entrepreneurs. That’s the power of partnership at its best -- allowing us to achieve so much more together than we could apart.

As local leaders and mayors who face real decision every day, you have the power to make change. You have the chance to develop partnerships that will allow you to learn from each other and to take action for peace, prosperity, and sustainability. I am here to ask you to collaborate with us on this new generation of partnerships that reflect a global economy, a flatter world, and cities on the rise.

I encourage you to work with your fellow mayors from around the world to expand partnerships and to embark on new ones.

In Closing

I began my remarks by commenting on global challenges that require strong leadership from ALL of us, before they can be conquered. These challenges and dialogues have only reinforced this Administration’s conviction of the need to seize this moment and lay the foundation for inclusive global leadership for decades to come by working with new and diverse partners. Chief among these partners are state and local leaders, especially mayors whose cities are growing every day.

Secretary Clinton has said that “in the 21st century, the most important players in international affairs will be the ones who make things happen, who get results” –state and local officials are the leaders in policy implementation and thus we view them as partners in addressing our global challenges.

Thank you once again for the honor of addressing you today—now let’s get to work!

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