NEW YORK FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, 799 UNITED NATIONS PLAZA, 10TH FLOOR
MODERATOR: (In progress) the New York Foreign Press Center. Our distinguished briefers are from the U.S. Department of State. They are Jose W. Fernandez, Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment; Ramin Toloui, Assistant Secretary for Economic and Business Affairs; and we will shortly be joined by Jennifer Littlejohn, Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. My name is Daphne Stavropoulos and I’ll be today’s moderator. This briefing is on the record. We will post a video recording and a transcript on our website as soon as possible.
I’m very pleased to turn the program over to Under Secretary Fernandez, who leads the work at the State Department to promote economic prosperity through trade and investment by countering economic coercion, securing reliable and sustainable supply chains, promoting clean energy solutions, and building global partnerships to address the global climate, biodiversity, and pollution crises.
Our briefers will be providing an update on key priorities for the administration and readouts of several of their meetings this week. After their opening remarks, we’ll return and open the floor for questions. And with that, thank you for joining us, Under Secretary.
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Great. Thank you and good afternoon, everyone. I’m Jose Fernandez. I’m delighted to be here. This is home for me. New York is where I’m from. So this is a great opportunity and you couldn’t pick a nicer day after a Monday that I think tested all of us.
What I’d like to do is take your questions but also highlight first of all how we at the Department of State are working to promote economic prosperity here at the UN General Assembly. In summary, we’re focused on four things: number one, working across the government and closely with our partners and allies on, number one, trade and investment opportunities; securing reliable and sustainable supply chains in medical equipment, vaccines, critical minerals and rare earths; thirdly, promoting clean energy solutions; and lastly, building global partnership to address global climate, health, biodiversity, and pollution.
This is not work that I do alone. In fact, I’m blessed to have several hundreds of colleagues in the E family that work every day on these issues. But what I’d like to do is bring together some ideas and tell you – tell you what exactly we have been doing the last – in the last two years, and also what we would like to do going forward.
The first bureau that I will highlight is the bureau that’s led by my friend Ramin Toloui, focused on advocating for U.S. businesses overseas; screening both inbound and outbound investments in technologies that are critical to national security; ensuring the safety of U.S. ships and aircraft around the globe, transportation; and lastly, advancing U.S. foreign policy through effective use of the economic tools of the department.
A second bureau under my portfolio is the Bureau of Energy Resources. The Bureau of Energy Resources is led by Geoff Pyatt. He’s working on ensuring the energy security of our friends and allies while promoting the decarbonization of our energy systems and providing access to global – to clean, affordable, and reliable energy. Geoff Pyatt also leads U.S. coordination with the G7 group of governments that are working with Ukraine to repair and modernize its energy grid following Russia’s brutal invasion, and this is something that takes a lot of our effort. And in fact, yesterday I was talking to a number of officials and private sector officials from Ukraine who were very complimentary of the work that we did – been done, because every day – every day there’s an attack by Russia that’s targeted, designed to – frankly, to freeze the Ukrainians into submission. And we are committed to working with Ukraine to help on that score.
Earlier this week, also as part of the ENR world, I met with partners in government and the private sector to discuss our approach to diversifying and expanding global supply chains for the critical minerals that go into batteries and other clean energy technologies. We have a need right now for us to reach our 2015 clean energy goals, our clean – the critical minerals need to expand – or the availability of critical minerals needs to expand substantially – 42 times the amount of lithium, 25 times the amount of graphite. We’re not going to get to our clean energy goals unless we’re able to secure these minerals, and we’re working day and night to try and diversify those supply chains and make them more resilient.
This is not just a challenge for our – for our government, but actually it’s a global challenge. Our first tool in this effort is the Minerals Security Partnership, the MSP, which is a partnership that has been created by 13 countries plus the European Union to identify promising projects, encourage investments, and also make sure that we adhere to the highest environmental, social, and governance standards. Too often, countries around the world are being asked to choose between economic growth and environmental degradation. We think that’s a false choice. And what the MSP intends to do is to diversify our supply chains but also do it the right way, follow the principles abroad that we would follow at home.
The third group that I head is the food security work that’s led by the Special Envoy for Global Food Security Cary Fowler. Cary leads and coordinates U.S. diplomatic engagement on food systems, food security, and nutrition in bilateral and regional fora, working closely with USAID, Department of Agriculture, and many others. It’s actually – it’s – it is right now pursuing the Vision for Adapted Crops and Soils, VACS, V-A-C-S. VACS is – which we are pursuing with the African Union and the Food and Agriculture Organization at the UN – could be a game changer. And basically we are identifying the main staple crops in Southern Africa that could disappear or could be supplanted or could disappear as a result of climate change. And we’re working to develop new varieties that will be able to withstand climate change. We’ll have an event tonight on that. It’s a topic that I’m passionate about. And if we succeed, we will have some – we will have improved the livelihoods of many millions of people in Southern Africa.
Another office that I lead is – or help lead – is the Office of Global Partnerships. It’s a preeminent entry point for the private – public-private partnerships across the Department of State. It harnesses technology, markets, and resources of the private sector. It’s fueled our ability to work with over 1,600 – one thousand six hundred partners – and mobilize about $4 billion worth of public and private sector resource commitments that oftentimes we have great ideas but the funding is hard to find. What we – what this office does is it brings together the private sector and the public sector to work on projects that are public policy-related.
The Office of the Science and Technology Advisor, which is another office, focuses on the utilization of science, technology, and innovation. It suffuses just about everything we do, from critical minerals, to oceans, to even a lot of the commercial work that also we work on.
Another office is the Office of the Chief Economist that focuses on advanced economic statecraft by delivering economic advice. We need data. We need – and on trade, on the environment, on many of the issues that we deal with, economics is the – is front and center, be it climate change and the like. And what the OCE does is it supports the department’s goals of building a more resilient, secure, sustainable, and inclusive global economy.
On the environment, and then my colleague – JR – Littlejohn is here. The Bureau of OES – Oceans, Environment, and Science. I’m very pleased to share with you today that in fact we just came from signing the high seas treaty BBNJ. BBNJ is a treaty that will – two-thirds of the world’s oceans are actually beyond national jurisdictions. Less than 2 percent of our oceans are protected. We’ve agreed that by 2030 we will – we will help to conserve 30 percent of the world’s oceans. This is a momentous treaty. It’s a treaty that’s going to help us in preserving our environment. It’s going to help us on exploration. It’s going to help us with our climate goals, because the world’s high seas are also carbon sinks. And having a treaty that covers, frankly, most of the globe is daunting. It’s humbling, but it’s – I think – it’s something that we have been working on for many, many years across many administrations. And it’s something that we’re very proud of, and we just signed it. So you’re getting me on a high – on a high note.
Later today, we will be launching another major initiative led by OES, by Assistant Secretary Littlejohn and others, with a number of civil society groups and private sector partners. It’s called the End Plastic Pollution International Collaborative. And we are – we have started – the world has started negotiating a global plastic pollution treaty. What EPCC* intends to do is to find private sector solutions to the – to this crisis. Again, this is work that JR is working on as we speak and it’s one that’s going to take a lot of our time and effort in the next year or two. And if we succeed, we will have helped to end a major environmental crisis going forward.
I’m going to ask each of Assistant Secretaries Toloui and Littlejohn to speak, and then I – we’ll take your questions. So let me start with Ramin. Let – tell us a little bit of what you’ve been working on, which is also quite impressive.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY TOLOUI: Right. Under Secretary Fernandez, thank you very much. Thank you to all of you here at the Foreign Press Center and all of those joining online. Here at High-Level Week, the U.S. is emphasizing the agenda of making progress and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. We are investing in critical technologies. We are strengthening our alignment with global allies and partners. We’re designing strategies to build sustainable and quality infrastructure. We are working with others to create inclusive economic opportunities, and we are working together to strengthen food systems around the world.
So let me talk about a few elements of that and our activities this week. First of all, yesterday in his speech to world leaders, President Biden outlined the U.S. commitment to boost World Bank lending and advance inclusive representation at the International Monetary Fund. As President Biden said, the United States is working across the board to make global institutions more responsive, more effective, and more inclusive. For example, we’ve taken significant steps to reform and scale up the World Bank, expanding its financing to low- and middle-income countries so that we can boost progress in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals.
Let me talk about some specifics. President Biden has requested funding for the World Bank from our Congress in order to support developing countries and make the World Bank a bigger, better institution. The Biden administration is working with Congress to unlock $25 billion in new World Bank concessional lending capacity to provide borrowers more headroom so that they can address global challenges.
At the IMF, we’re also working with Congress to provide authorization to lend up to $21 billion to the IMF’s two trust funds that provide highly concessional or zero-cost loans to the world’s most vulnerable countries. Together, our IMF and World Bank proposals would generate nearly $50 billion – $50 billion – in lending for middle-income and poor countries, just supported by the efforts of the United States. And because we anticipate that our allies and partners would also contribute, we expect that this line of effort, this proposal, could support the total mobilization of over $200 billion for middle-income and developing countries.
Second, we’re also working with our partners to advance and strengthen global food security. In the spring of last year, the United States convened a meeting that defined a roadmap for global food security call to action. Over 100 countries have now endorsed this roadmap to endorse global food insecurity, which has been exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Since the invasion, the U.S. has led efforts to mitigate the crisis by providing over $14 billion to address food insecurity. The U.S. has contributed more than 50 percent of the World Food Program’s budget.
But that’s not all. We’re committed to strengthening food systems in Africa and elsewhere around the world. As Under Secretary Fernandez was describing, later today at the UNGA open debate on famine and conflict-induced global food security, Secretary Blinken will emphasize the importance of the Vision for Adapted Crops and Soils, or VACS, as a key component of addressing long-term global food challenges. VACS seeks to boost agricultural productivity and nutrition by developing diverse, climate-resilient crop varieties and building healthy soils.
Unfortunately, that’s not all of the work that we need to do to strengthen global food security and address the causes of global food insecurity that are happening right now. Yesterday, the G7 – at the G7 foreign ministers meeting, G7 members strongly condemned Russia’s unjustified and intensified attacks on Ukrainian ports and grain infrastructure in and around the Black Sea and the Danube River. They urged Russia to stop threatening global food security and return to the international framework associated with the UN to resume grain exports from Ukraine. And they reiterated their support for Ukraine’s undeniable right to export its grain and foodstuffs through other initiatives, including the U.S. – the EU-Ukraine solidarity lanes and its humanitarian maritime corridor.
Finally, the U.S. is committed to using technology to help solve the globe’s most urgent problems. On Monday I had the pleasure to join our government partners and private sector leaders in a discussion of how AI can and should be used to accelerate our progress toward achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. And Secretary Blinken and other foreign ministers also addressed this group, and multiple dozen ministers were in attendance. We heard about 11 projects and partnerships, each aimed at advancing the Sustainable Development Goals.
These projects demonstrate clearly that collaboration between governments, the private sector, and other stakeholders, including civil society and local communities, is the best mechanism to harness artificial intelligence to accelerate progress on the Sustainable Development Goals and ensure that AI development is safe, secure, trustworthy, and directed towards solving society’s greatest challenges, like helping people predict individuals’ risk of deadly disease, improving access to infrastructure, enhancing precision farming, and forecasting the impact of more severe and more frequent storms.
Participants shared tools that are empowering governments and the private sector to predict energy demand and optimize plans for increasing energy access in parts of developing – the developing world, including artificial intelligence-enabled population density maps. Others showed how AI-driven medical informatics can enhance critical prenatal care in rural areas across the developing world to address preventable afflictions such as retinopathy, a particular type of blindness affecting infants. Through all of these things, we are strengthening our partnerships with other countries and with the private sector to apply technology to the most urgent challenges the world faces.
In closing, we in the U.S. Government are advancing a positive economic vision that highlights the benefits of international economic cooperation and emphasizes the need to make our economies more competitive and resilient while working together to tackle global challenges and achieve prosperity for all of our peoples.
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Thank you, Ramin. J.R.?
MS LITTLEJOHN: Thank you, Under Secretary Fernandez. So my bureau leads U.S. diplomacy on issues that conserve and protect our planet’s land, ocean, and biodiversity. We promote international cooperation in science and technology and in responsible civilian use of outer space.
As Under Secretary Fernandez mentioned, we are delighted – underscore that – delighted to be among the first countries to sign the High Seas Treaty just a few hours ago. The high seas account for almost two-thirds of the ocean, and currently only a small percentage is protected. This treaty will help us change that. On Monday, Secretary Blinken and ministers from the Atlantic coastal states met to launch a new partnership for Atlantic cooperation which will focus on supporting sustainable blue economies, promoting climate resilience, and elevating science and technology cooperation across the Atlantic region.
Tonight, I am very glad that the under secretary will join us to launch the End Plastic Pollution International Collaborative, or wisely called EPPIC. The plastic pollution problem is far too big for any single organization, company, or national entity or government to solve on its own, and that’s why we’re coming together to share best practices and to collaborate on any and all solutions that we can come up with together because it’s critical.
I would also be delighted to discuss our work on combating, I think, nature crimes, and that’s acts like illegal logging, wildlife trafficking, and crimes associated with fishing. We recently launched the Nature Crime Alliance, and we are working with partners around the world to inspire action to protect endangered and threatened species and the people who depend on them.
And finally, last week Germany became the 29th country to sign on to the Artemis Accords, which lay out a set of principles to guide the future of civilian space exploration, and it’s something on which we partner very closely with NASA. So as I like to say, we work on important issues, from the depths of the ocean to the vastness of outer space. It’s great to be here with you today.
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much for those remarks. We’ll open the floor for questions. If you have a question, please raise your hand and state your name and your outlet as a courtesy to our stenographers as well as our briefers, of course. Go ahead, Manik.
QUESTION: Yeah, my name is Manik Mehta. I’m a syndicated journalist. I just want to find out, to ascertain, how the transition is progressing from decoupling to de-risking economic ties with China.
And secondly, is the High Seas Treaty which you signed part of or related to the UNCLAS**, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea? Thank you.
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Sure. Thank you for the questions. Both are – we could spend hours on those questions, but I’ll try and be brief. As you just stated and as we’ve said repeatedly, we are not looking to decouple, we’re looking to de-risking. In fact, we have commercial – very strong commercial relations with the PRC. It’s one of our major – one of our major trading partners. What we are looking to do, though, is to – understanding that, as Secretary Blinken has mentioned, the PRC, China, is one country that has both the wherewithal and the intention to challenge many of the rules of the world order – rules which, by the way, have enabled the PRC to have its remarkable economic rise of the last few decades.
So we are looking to continue our commercial relations at the same time that we are targeting specific areas where we would like to diversify our supply chains – and this would happen even without the PRC. Something that we’ve learned in the last – with the COVID pandemic is that supply chains that depend on one or two suppliers are inherently insecure. So we – it’s important to diversify.
At the same time, we are aligning our goals with our partners and allies around the world, and, of course, President Biden and Congress have passed some very important legislation that has allowed us to – enabled us to compete at a higher level – the Inflation Reduction Act, the bilateral infrastructure law, the CHIPS Act. All are designed to do the things that I just alluded to: diversifying our supply chains and becoming much more resilient and diverse in our suppliers.
So that’s a long way of saying that it’s work that continues. It’s work that we believe is important. I think we are – you’re seeing, for example, as a result of the Inflation Reduction Act, $170 billion at last count of investments that have been generated as a result of the IRA. Experts will – have estimated that after we’re done with the IRA, we will have – the U.S. will have received $1.7 trillion worth of investments. That’s a hugely successful effort, and it’s all part of the strategy of not decoupling, but de-risking, at the same time that we continue to pursue strong commercial relations with the PRC.
MODERATOR: Go ahead.
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: I’m sorry, I think —
MODERATOR: Oh, sorry. Okay.
MS LITTLEJOHN: So on your questions regarding the UNCLOS and the BBNJ, first on UNCLOS, I would say while the United is not a party to the Law of the Sea Convention, the United States has affirmed repeatedly over decades that the convention’s provisions concerning traditional uses of the ocean, such as navigation, overflight, generally reflect customary international law that is binding by all states.
That said, if we could just take a step back, I think it’s so important for us to emphasize how historic today is. It’s not every day that you’re going to sign a treaty that will have an impact on, frankly, to protect half of the planet, right. And so this treaty has, again, taken decades to come into fruition at this point, and you’ve probably all heard the stories about the final 38 hours of negotiations to bring it over the finish line, and that today we’re among 70 countries that will be signatories to this agreement. So we have begun the domestic process to pursue ratification of the agreement, and we look forward to working with the global community to prepare for the implementation of the treaty once it enters into force.
A little more than you asked for, but I think this moment really deserves a little extra oomph.
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: A good day.
MS LITTLEJOHN: Yes.
MODERATOR: So we’re short on time for the Q&A portion, so we’ll go to Kushboo, and we might have time for one or two more questions.
QUESTION: Sure. So I just wanted to ask, like, we are witnessing that China is going to an economic slowdown. I just wanted to ask how that slowdown has impacted the way you frame policies on curbing China’s economic coercion when it comes to U.S. and its allies and partners, and what are the steps that the U.S. is thinking of taking to prevent any ripple effects for U.S. businesses and investments in China and Asia?
MODERATOR: Can you state your outlet, please?
QUESTION: I’m Kushboo from the South China Morning Post.
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Again, I would not call it curbing China’s economic growth, okay? China has done a magnificent job in bringing many millions of people out of poverty. And we’re not looking to at all constrain China’s economic growth. What we’re looking to do is – in very specific areas – to make sure that we do not threaten our security, and that we can continue to grow.
For example – or just take – to understand it, you’ve got to figure out that China’s civil military fusion is something that changes the outlook of many things. By law, Chinese companies need to follow the dictates of the military enterprise. That is – and when I say that the rules – that China intends to change the rules, that is part of the issue. You’ve got state-owned enterprises that get tax breaks, get free rent, are bankruptcy-proof. And that is – those kinds of advantages are things that not only hurt our companies, but also hurt our workers that cannot compete.
So I would not at all portray our efforts as in any way, shape, or form, as a way to constrain China’s economic growth. I would say that it – our strategy from day one has been to improve our own ability to compete – Inflation Reduction Act, bilateral investment law, CHIPS, you name it – help ourselves compete better, align with our partners, which in many ways is our competitive advantage, and compete with China on a level playing field. So – and that strategy, which has been there from day one in the Biden-Harris administration, is a strategy that we will pursue independently of what occurs within China with its economy.
MODERATOR: We’re going to go around.
QUESTION: Thanks. Lennart Zandbergen. I’m with the Dutch financial daily.
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: From where?
QUESTION: The Netherlands.
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Oh. Okay.
QUESTION: I have a question with regards to the food security and the war in Ukraine. Of course, now there is a small conflict going between Poland and Ukraine regarding the grain exports. Is there a role for the U.S. there, and what role is that, and how do you see this conflict developing?
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: This is an issue for the EU and its member-states to figure out. And I’m sure they will do so. But let’s keep in mind that as a result of Russia’s invasion, its – the butchery that’s ongoing as we speak right now, you have – you’ve had another hundred million people that have – that are going hungry around the world. The – Russia has ended, terminated the Black Sea Grain Initiative, citing export restrictions. The fact of the matter is that our sanctions do not cover food. The fact of the matter is that China last year had record exports. What is going on is a compounding of the butchery that’s going on right now in Ukraine, and it’s affecting the entire world. It’s affecting – this is why countries in Africa have a stake in this invasion. It’s not only about violating sovereign borders, Article 1 of the UN Charter; it’s not only about forcibly taking children from their families and then – and having them adopted within Russia. It’s about food.
And so we have every confidence the EU has been a fabulous partner and a strong – incredibly strong supporter of Ukraine. I’m sure they will find a solution. And we have to maintain our unity, and I think we have every confidence that will happen.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Jahanzaib Ali from – Jahanzaib Ali of ARY News, Pakistan. So there’s a general perception that the billions of dollars allocated for developing countries are influenced by U.S. foreign policy interests, favoring nations that align with American foreign policy objectives. What are your perspective on this matter?
Secondly, sir, what measures are being taken to ensure that the transition to clean energy doesn’t lead to job losses in traditional energy sector?
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Repeat the first one, just quickly, just the question.
QUESTION: Sir, it is about billions of dollars that – there’s a general perception that these funds are allocated according to the U.S. foreign policy.
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: I got it. Numbers don’t lie. Look at PEPFAR in Africa. Probably – it’s something that we are immensely proud of. It has saved millions and millions of lives, continues to do so, in Africa. That was done under a different administration and I don’t think it had – it was allocated on the basis of politics, on the basis of foreign policy. Look at our support for Gavi and vaccines. We – some of our adversaries received vaccines.
There is a role for foreign policy and then there’s a role for behaving and supporting human crises. And I think if you look at all of our programs, if you look at our programs, you will find – and this is why we’re so proud of them – that they have been done without – they have benefit allies and they have benefit adversaries. Look at what’s going on on food. JR just mentioned that we are the, by far, the greatest supporter of food aid around the world. I would challenge you to tell me that that – that a political – that we look at a political leaning of a country before we help its’ famished.
MODERATOR: Well, I appreciate your being here today. I know you’re short on time. You have time for one more? Okay.
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Yeah, I just feel bad. My wife is a journalist. I know the feeling. Go ahead. Make it easy. Make it easy, though, all right?
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Azerbaijan. I have multiple, but very quick questions.
MODERATOR: Make it one, Alex.
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Yeah.
QUESTION: Yes, sure. The State Department has been reluctant in terms of issuing a business advisory on Russia, which would allow the U.S. companies to leave, to listen to the U.S. Government’s risk assessment and to leave Russia. Why, though? Why it hasn’t been issued since we are going into our second year of the war? You have issued on Myanmar and other cases, but not in Ukraine.
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Listen, we have sanctioned – U.S. companies cannot do business in Russia. We – or anyone making investments in Russia. We have ourselves, together with our partners – the EU, Japan, Korea, and others – have imposed crushing sanctions on Russia. You tell me what a business advisory will add, but I think – I don’t think the – I think we – well, I’ll be – I don’t think Russia feels it’s gotten an easy shake on – from the U.S. We have imposed crushing sanctions on them, and we will continue to do so for as long as this brutal invasion continues.
QUESTION: A quick follow-up to that —
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: No, no.
MODERATOR: Well, that concludes today’s briefing. It was on the record. Our transcript will be available on our website later on today. Thank you very much for coming.
* The acronym for the End Plastic Pollution International Collaborative is EPPIC.
** The acronym for The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is UNCLOS.