SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, Jim. And it’s wonderful to see all of you. I am delighted to be able to come and talk with you. Under Secretary Hormats is carrying the water for the State Department and what we’re doing with the Export Council and the President’s goal of doubling our exports.
And I just want to start by echoing the President’s statement this morning about our concern and condolences over what’s happened in Japan and what is yet unfolding with the tsunami. Obviously, the United States is offering immediate relief. Those of you who do business in Japan, we think we – we’ve sent out a Warden Notice. We think we’ve accounted for most all Americans that we know of, but let us know. Our consular efforts are literally 24/7 to make sure that we assist any and all U.S. citizens and are supporting the Japanese Government.
We just had our Air Force assets in Japan transport some really important coolant to one of the nuclear plants. Japan is very reliant on nuclear power and they have very high engineering standards, but one of their plants came under a lot of stress with the earthquake and didn’t have enough coolant. And so Air Force planes were able to deliver that. So we’re really deeply involved in trying to do as much as we can on behalf of the Japanese and on behalf of U.S. citizens.
The State Department is a full partner in what you are doing, and we’re proud to be a partner. And I consider it a critical aspect of my job to help open every market I can find and sell every American product I can sell. And that’s caused a few comments by some, but I am absolutely shameless about it. So I not only like to promote our products and services, but our ingenuity, our creativity, and everything else that we stand for.
I think that we have given clear direction in the Obama Administration to our ambassadors. We are working hard to turn our ambassadors into CEOs. That is very familiar to some, but not to all of them. And we believe that having a CEO model for the chief of mission will help us manage the myriad of U.S. Government assets and activities in every country in the world today. So when I talked to Special Representative Lorraine Hariton or anybody else in our shop, it is about making sure that we help provide the tools that our ambassadors need to be able to do everything possible to promote this mission about expanding our exports.
The October 2010 tour by our ambassadors to the Middle East and North Africa brought them to Milwaukee, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, and Houston so that U.S. business executives, many of whom are not sitting around this table, would learn more about how to export. It is still viewed by too many American businesses as something of a black box. They don’t know how to get in, they don’t know what to do once they do get in. And we are working very diligently with the rest of the government to try to promote that.
I hope that we can do more to encourage more small and medium-sized businesses. When I do travel, I try to do a commercial diplomacy event in many places. I was in Australia where we did an event with Caterpillar, John Deere, Harley Davidson, and GE. When I was in Russia, I visited the Boeing engineering facility in Moscow and witnessed firsthand the extraordinary cooperation, not only between Russians and Americans but between Moscow, Chicago, and Seattle.
And in our efforts to promote small and medium-sized businesses we’ve tried to highlight them so that, for example, Echelon Corporation, based in San Jose, California has about 350 employees; it’s a world leader in developing systems that support smart electrical grids and other ways to make energy systems more efficient. And they’re exporting those systems to China, which is now using them to reduce water use and greenhouse gas emissions. So any of you who need their services, let me know, because we could use them here at home as well.
Now, I do understand, as Jim alluded to, the need to facilitate our visa policy. Last year we issued almost 7 million visas to qualified applicants around the world. In the last two years we have certified nine additional countries for our Visa Waiver program. We are streamlining operations by eliminating paper applications, working to expedite visa appointments for business travelers.
But I’ll just be very candid with you. We have tried some experiments to look for ways to do interviews over Skype. It doesn’t meet our security needs. We train our consular officers to look at a visa applicant from a lot of different perspectives, and it’s unfortunate that that’s the world we find ourselves in. So we’re trying to do everything possible to keep our consular offices open longer, to try to provide more support.
One of my big pleas to the Congress in my testimony over the last two weeks was if you cut our budget, which of course we know everything will be cut, but if we cut our personnel, our biggest personnel load is in consular affairs. And when it comes to visa waivers, there are very strict standards that have to be met by the Department of Homeland Security. China, India, and Brazil do not meet them, and that’s where a huge increase in visa applications are coming from.
Now, as you were talking about when I came in, we are pursuing free trade agreements. Ambassador Kirk is on the front lines there. We hope to be able to get those agreements up this year, starting with KORUS. We think it’s very important to go ahead and approve that, but also Colombia and Panama and to accelerate our efforts on the TPP. I heard the comment about intellectual property, and when I spoke to the APEC Conference a few days ago, I said we have to deal with intellectual property in the TPP. That needs to be a model for what we need to do.
So there’s a lot that we’re doing, and we would like to do more. We feel that it’s part of our mission. But I think it’s fair to say – you certainly would hear that from Secretary Locke – commercial diplomacy has been cut back at the very time when we need more people on the ground making America’s case for America’s businesses.
So we need your help to – both Gary’s people who are housed in our embassies around the world working with our ambassadors and others, plus our people who go out and do Open Skies agreements, which are going to create billions of new dollars in economic opportunities and lots of new jobs here in America. We’re doing it every day, and we need to do a better job, and we need your help doing it to make the connection between increasing exports and supporting the mission of the State Department and the Commerce Department and USTR.
MODERATOR: Well, listen, thank you very, very much for these comments. As to your last point, one of our earlier recommendations was all about more boots on the ground. And if we need to return to that to give you the support – and I know, Gary, you’ve made some – you’ve got some of your own recommendations in that direction. And so – but if we need to weigh in again, we will readdress that issue, because it is critically important. When you show up in places and there’s 20 Chinese boots on the ground and there’s three of our boots on the ground, up from two, we feel good about it, but is it enough? We have to raise that question and that’s – and we’ll do that. We really appreciate the advice and the push on that one. And your commercial advocacy is off the charts, and we appreciate it. We appreciate it very much. (Applause.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Should I answer any questions for a few minutes?
MODERATOR: Yeah. Any questions of the Secretary?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, let me add one other thing.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Which is, we are very committed to supporting economic activity in Egypt and Tunisia. And I’ll be going to Cairo and Tunis this upcoming week, and one of our goals is to try to implement enterprise funds for both countries. Senator Kerry and Senator McCain introduced bipartisan legislation in the Senate yesterday. We want to be able to fund those enterprise zones. We’re going to use some OPIC dollars, some ExIm support. We are looking at the full range of our tools, but nothing beats private sector investments. So we hope that even in the midst of the uncertainty people who are there will stay there and people who aren’t there will take a look at what we think will be a really promising market if we can get some of the burdens off of the consumers and the business sector.