THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center’s briefing on our business awards program. My name is Jake Goshert; I’m the moderator for this briefing. As a reminder, the briefing is on the record. We will post a transcript this – of the briefing on our website, which is fpc.state.gov. For journalists joining us on Zoom, please take a moment now to rename yourself in the chat window with your name and your outlet and your country.
Our distinguished briefer today is Dilawar Syed, the State Department’s special representative for commercial and business affairs. Following his opening remarks, I will open the floor for questions from our participating journalists. And with that, I’m going to turn it over to Special Representative Syed.
MR SYED: Thank you so much. And thank you, everybody, for joining us either virtually or many folks who have joined us. Good afternoon and good morning for those of you who are actually abroad.
My name is Dilawar Syed; I’m special representative for commercial and business affairs. In this role, I drive commercial diplomacy globally at the State Department and work very closely with our colleagues at Commerce Department, U.S. Trade, EXIM Bank, DFC. And our mission is to promote U.S. companies abroad to make sure there’s a level playing field for our companies to compete and win.
We also know that U.S. companies and U.S. entrepreneurs, innovators are a force for good all over the world. I mean, I in my job in almost a year have gone to 10 different countries, bilateral visits, and we’ve seen the incredible impact U.S. companies’ products and services are having in these countries. Not only they’re a great source of foreign investment abroad, but they’re also moving societies forward in many ways, projecting the best of American values and our best practices.
So we are hosting a very exciting event tomorrow at the State Department. It’s annual. This is our annual Award for Corporate Excellence – ACE, Award for Corporate Excellence – that the Secretary himself will be awarding the winners this year. It’s the first in-person event for ACE after the pandemic, so we’re excited to welcome many companies and our guests to the State Department. And I’m going to share with you the categories for these awards and the winners that we are recognizing tomorrow.
So there are four themes for these awards. One, responsible business operation; second, climate resilience; and third is inclusive economic growth. And you will see that we are actually recognizing both large companies and small companies as well. And these themes reflect President Biden’s agenda when it comes to inclusive economic growth at home and abroad. It reflects his focus and emphasis on climate action to combat global warming.
And the four winners that we have – that we are awarding tomorrow, let me start with responsible business operation. The – in that category, Anova is the winner. They are based out of Bali, Indonesia. This nomination came from our consulate in Surabaya, Indonesia. This is a San Diego-based company, and they’re helping small-scale fisheries in Indonesia be able to provide a more sustainable seafood, but in the process also earn more fair wages. And part of the impact that Anova is making, they’re using actually digital blockchain technology to capture the full supply chain of fishing from the point of catch to point of sale. And so very proud of Anova’s wonderful impact in Indonesia, especially with small-scale fisheries and ensuring there are fair wages being paid to fishermen and women.
The second winner, under the responsible business operation category, is Gap Inc. This nomination came from Chennai consulate, our consulate in Tamil Nadu, India. And as we know, during the pandemic there was obviously a big disruption of supply chains, but also it disrupted the flow of income for those who – workers who are involved in these industries. Gap Inc. took proactive action to negotiate payment of wages from their third-party suppliers to their workers in India. So we want to recognize, our consulate has recognized, the great work Gap Inc. has done to make sure that workers are being paid in a timely fashion, especially at a time when so many communities were impacted. I visited Chennai earlier this year as part of my South Asia trip, and it’s obviously an incredible metropolis in the region, and to see the impact that companies like Gap Inc. are having in that part of the world is very heartwarming.
Our third category – rather a second category that I want to talk about is climate resilience. And we are recognizing a company that is operating in Dhaka, Bangladesh: Drinkwell. I also had the privilege of visiting Dhaka, and actually I drank water from Drinkwell’s “water ATM,” and it’s a very novel concept. They have set up these water ATMs in very densely populated Dhaka. As you may know, it’s one of the most densely populated cities in the world. And these consumers have access to clean, safe water at very affordable prices. Ambassador Peter Haas and I both visited Drinkwell, my first engagement when I was visiting Bangladesh, and queued up in this – at this ATM and had water. They’re in the climate resilience category. We know that Bangladesh is one of the countries that has been most impacted by climate change, and being able to provide access to a daily need – water, clean water – is important. So celebrating Drinkwell as a winner in this category.
Our final winner that we announce here tomorrow is in the inclusive economic growth category, and this nomination came from our embassy in San Jose, Costa Rica. We are recognizing Intel, Costa Rica for their incredible work in Costa Rica. Intel has a program which they are piloting in Costa Rica called Skills for Life. It’s a STEM program where they’re developing young people, building the capacity in STEM program. It’s a 16-month-long initiative that these young people have to go through. What we really like about this particular winner here and their effort is they focused on underserved population. The 160 youth who went through this program actually come from an Afro-descendent population, they come from indigenous populations in Costa Rica, and that’s where this program is having its incredible impact. In fact, our understanding is that Intel would probably consider taking this program global given its impact in Costa Rica.
So again, very proud of the U.S. companies who have done this incredible work and are again reflecting the best of our values but also helping drive some incredible impact around the world. We look forward to celebrating them in person tomorrow at the State Department, and I’d be happy to take any questions now from our reporters here.
MODERATOR: Thank you for those remarks. We’d like to open up the floor now for questions. Journalists joining us via Zoom, please be sure to rename yourself to include your name, outlet, and country. If you do have a question, please click the raised hand icon on the bottom of the Zoom screen. And I’ll first turn to Zoom to see if any of our Indian colleagues joining us on Zoom have any questions, or Alex.
We did have one pre-submitted question if we want to go to that. Oh, we have a question here now from Lalit, if you could unmute yourself and ask the question. Lalit Jha.
QUESTION: Hi and good morning. Thank you for doing this. I wanted to ask you about the business environment in India right now. How is it going? Are you comfortable with it? Are the U.S. companies able to do businesses in India?
MR SYED: Thank you, Lalit, for that question. I visited India, as you know, in July of this year and I was in Chennai actually. Look, India is our key trading partner. It’s one of our most robust and strong relationships economically and commercially. We are proud of that. Obviously, many U.S. companies, as you know very well, are operating in India making massive impact in virtually every sector.
As we have done with other countries, we have continued to push for a more friendly environment for investment from U.S. companies, a more level playing field for our companies to compete and win. We know it’s a more competitive world for our U.S. companies, so we are always advocating, whether it’s protection of IP, whether it’s the ability to repatriate profits back to the United States, whether it’s things on R&D where we can collaborate more when it comes to local universities. There’s a breadth of topics that we have discussed with our counterparts in India. We are pleased we are making progress, but the most important thing is it is a key partner for us and we are investing a lot, obviously, our resources and engagement. Next year India is hosting the G20; it will also be an incredible opportunity for us to have more expanded conversations and deepening our economic relationship with India.
MODERATOR: Okay, thank you again. If you’re joining us on Zoom, please press the raised hand icon to ask your question. We’ll turn next to Alex from Turan News Agency in Azerbaijan.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you so very much. My apologies, there were some technical issues. I was trying to raise my hand earlier.
Special Representative Syed, thanks so much for your time. I was wondering if you have received other candidates from other embassies, other than these four winners, throughout the process. And also since we have you here, may we also get your assessment on the role of U.S. business in my part of the world, the South Caucasus and Eastern European countries? Do you think it’s diminishing because of Russia-Ukraine war, or there is still room to boost up your presence there?
And lastly, as we focus on Ukraine, and Ukraine particularly postwar Ukraine, maybe try to picture the role of the – the role that U.S. companies could play, I was wondering if this is part of your portfolio. Are you focused on how much – the potential of a future role for the U.S. business in Ukraine is beefed up after the war? Thank you so much.
MR SYED: Absolutely, so there are three questions there. I will try to address all of them. Let me start with the process for the ACE Awards nominations.
So we receive nominations from around the world. We have our embassies and missions in 200-plus countries. This is a big call to action we do every year, and we received a significant number of nominations. There’s a pretty – there’s a pretty detailed process within the State Department where we work out – my office, which is the Office of Commercial and Business Affairs, works closely with our other offices at the State Department, with the regional bureaus, and we go through the vetting of these nominations to make sure that those impacts are at a scale that we can – we can grade, if you will. And then of course there is a proper vetting done.
So it is – these winners are a subset of nominations that we received around the world, and we certainly hope to receive more nominations next year, since there’s a lot more sunshine on this exciting award ceremony tomorrow. And we certainly hope to receive nominations from Azerbaijan as well.
In terms of U.S. role or engagement with Eastern Europe and Central Asia, let me say this. The reality is Putin’s war in Ukraine and aggression has disrupted our energy supply, has had a really difficult impact on food security. We are engaged with our partners both in Central Asia and in Eastern Europe to make sure that we can help develop more energy security in the region. We obviously – as you’re aware of the grain deal that was struck to help get more of Ukraine grain out of the region, is going to help the region both Central Europe – sorry, Eastern Europe and Central Asia as well as around the world.
So because of what has happened in case of Ukraine, we are actually very focused on ensuring that our partners – whether it’s Azerbaijan or Eastern Europe – are secure, especially in the areas of energy and food security, given the very heavy impact that Russia’s war on Ukraine has had on these countries.
In terms of – with your third question, which was the role of U.S. companies post-construction – sorry, post-war, and our office and my role, actually we’re playing a very proactive role. Just this week, I met with a number of U.S. companies in a breadth of sectors, as well as Ukrainian companies who we hosted here in the U.S., to talk about how can they help when it comes to post-war reconstruction. We know it will be a long, long, and sustained effort. Unfortunately, we are – the conditions are not on the ground conducive enough for us to be very active yet. But we can always start planning and making sure that we’re convening the best of private sector both from the United States, our allies, as well as the amazing entrepreneurs, innovators from Ukraine.
So we are having this conversation. What – the role of my office is to be able to engage with the U.S. private sector and make sure they have a seat at the table, make sure they can assess the needs of Ukraine, which will be pretty significant – whether it’s energy, whether it’s rebuilding of their infrastructure. Also an opportunity for us to reform, if you will, given some of the concerns we had in the pre-war Ukraine. So this will be a very active portfolio for our bureau, Economic Bureau, and for our office, the Office of Commercial and Business Affairs.
QUESTION: Thanks so much.
MODERATOR: We’ll turn next to NewsMobile in India. Please ask your question.
QUESTION: I want to congratulate you for designation of – I’m Saurabh Shukla, founder of NewsMobile in India. I also wanted to check, have you come across any reports of misinformation or disinformation impacted some of these businesses? Because that is a big threat to democracy these days, and a lot of business that’s getting impacted, especially in South Asia. We focus a lot on detecting misinformation, and we realize sometimes third countries are also impacting these businesses, because these businesses are sustained economies. And especially you mentioned countries like Bangladesh, even in India, sometimes disinformation, misinformation that impact these businesses also impacts the economic activities. Is your bureau or the State Department focusing on this aspect?
MR SYED: Look, it’s a good question. You’re right, disinformation, misinformation is a issue that’s affecting everyone in the world. It affects democracy; it affects economic growth; it affects everyday lives. And especially in the pandemic we saw it affected access to accurate information, for instance public health. So it’s something that we take very, very seriously.
We have a new office, a new bureau at the State Department which is focused on cyber, cyber issues, digital policy, misinformation, disinformation. It’s called CDP. So it’s a very dedicated focus. Obviously, we work with them very closely. And again, private sector can be a force for good as well when it comes to that. We would encourage innovation in this regard to make sure that we can help level up facts and fight disinformation, since it affects economies and societies all over the world. And with the more digital our experiences are in communities around the world, the more critical the importance of accurate and timely information is.
MODERATOR: Okay. And we’ll give a pause for any last questions. Again, if you’re joining us online, raise your hand if you have any questions. And seeing none, I’d like to thank our briefer today for his remarks and his answers. I’ll give it back to you if you have any closing remarks.
MR SYED: Well, thank you for – everyone for joining us. We are, again, very excited that we are able to celebrate the success and global impact and positive impact of U.S. companies, U.S. entrepreneurs, U.S. small businesses abroad. This is – we believe that our U.S. private sector is a key actor globally to help us push for more positive change. And it’s wonderful to see so many U.S. companies nominated this year. We want to be able to double on this. We want to grow this, if you will, even more next year. And we appreciate everyone’s interest, and looking forward to an exciting ceremony tomorrow at the State Department.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Thank you, Special Representative Syed, and all the journalists joining us. That ends today’s briefing. Thank you.
MR SYED: Thank you.