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  • Special online briefing with Marisa Lago Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade, U.S. Department of Commerce and David Greene Chargé d’Affaires, U.S. Mission to Nigeria

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MODERATOR:  Good afternoon to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub.  I welcome our participants dialing in from across the continent and thank you all for joining this discussion today.  Today, we are very pleased to be joined by the Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade, Marisa Lago, from the U.S. Department of Commerce and who was previously assistant secretary of Treasury for International Markets and Development, as well as the chargé d’affaires in charge of the U.S. Mission to Nigeria, David Greene.  And together they will be discussing the U.S. Department of Commerce-led Global Diversity Export Initiative Trade Mission to South Africa, Ghana, and Nigeria.  Our speakers will discuss ongoing efforts to deepen the U.S.-Africa trade and investment relationship and identify new commercial opportunities as part of the U.S. commitment to the African continent.

We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from the under secretary and from the chargé d’affaires, and then we will turn to your questions.  We will try to get to as many of your questions as possible during the briefing.

Today’s briefing is on the record, and with that preamble, I’d like to turn it over to – for – to our two speakers for their opening remarks.  So first off, if we could go to Under Secretary Marisa Lago.

UNDER SECRETARY LAGO:  Thank you, Johann, and thanks also to all of you who are joining us today.  I am now at the conclusion of what has been a highly productive and professionally enriching visit to Africa, my fourth time on the African continent this year.  For the past nine days, I’ve been leading the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Global Diversity Export Initiative, or GDEI, Trade Mission, which has gone to South Africa, to Ghana, and to Nigeria, where we have been engaging with U.S. companies and African private sector leaders as well as my government counterparts.

As all of you are likely aware, the Biden-Harris administration has made a renewed commitment to deepening engagement across the African continent during – which was made during last December’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit hosted by President Biden in Washington, D.C.  Since then, there have been numerous high-level visits to the continent, including Vice President Kamala Harris, First Lady Jill Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, and in the last month alone the CEO of the U.S. Development Finance Corporation, Scott Nathan, and the head of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, Director Enoh Ebong, and Acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland – a very high, sustained pace of senior-level government visits.

So that said, our engagement or vision for deepened engagement with Africa entails a lot more than just high-level visits.  We are laser-focused on delivering tangible results across all dimensions of our bilateral relationship, as well as our partnerships with subnational and pan-African institutions.  And I’m pleased to report that if we look just in terms of trade and investment, since December’s leaders summit and the U.S.-Africa Business Forum that the Commerce Department organized, the Biden-Harris administration has helped close 75 new deals between the United States and African countries.  We estimate that the total values of these deals result in $5.7 billion in two-way trade and investment.

To underscore the Commerce Department’s role in this whole-of-government commitment, I’ll repeat what I said earlier:  While my role is global in scope, this is my fourth official visit to the African continent since the beginning of this year.  In February, I traveled to Tanzania, where I engaged with government officials and U.S. and Tanzanian CEOs, startups, and other local private sector leaders, where we discussed the business environment in that country.

From Tanzania, I moved on to Zambia, meeting with President Hichilema, hosting a roundtable for women entrepreneurs, meeting with key government leaders from several ministries and helping to lay the groundwork for the signing of a memorandum of understanding – an MOU – on commercial development with Zambia.  This MOU was formalized and signed shortly after Vice President Harris visited Zambia in March.

Fast-forward to May, I traveled to Cairo to hold the inaugural meeting of the U.S.-Egypt Joint Economic Commission.  There we established several areas to intensify our commercial cooperation.

Later the same month, in the last days of May, I traveled to Abuja, Nigeria, as part of the U.S. presidential delegation to attend the inauguration of President Tinubu.

At the U.S. Department of Commerce, we view these engagements and this specific GDEI Trade Mission as important steps in continuing to deliver on the commitments that we made at last December’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit and Business Forum.  In particular, this trade mission has brought over 20 U.S. companies and organizations, mostly owned by members of the African diaspora in the United States.  These companies are active in a wide range of sectors, starting with the information and communications technology sector, cybersecurity, electric vehicles, energy, trade facilitation, and consumer goods.

While these U.S. companies have been on this trade mission in Africa, the Commerce Department has arranged for them a robust series of tailored match-making opportunities with potential business owners – with potential business partners in these three countries.  We have also introduced them to the decision-makers in South Africa, Ghana, and Nigeria.

This trade mission serves as an example of how intentionally we’re working to deepen and sustain connections between U.S. and African companies.  We see trade missions like these as a foundational means of business-to-business relationship building as well as an important mechanism to foster ties that lead to concrete trade and investment deals.

Over the course of this trip, I’ve also advanced policy objectives aimed at aligning our U.S. approaches with those of the governments of South Africa, Ghana, and Nigeria.  What is the goal?  To mitigate potential barriers that can hamper trade and investment.  For example, in South Africa, I engaged with my government counterparts and private sector colleagues to explore potential solutions and opportunities in the infrastructure, healthcare, and ICT sectors with a special focus on supporting women in technology fields.  In honor of South Africa’s National Women’s Day, I met with South African tech entrepreneurs at WomHub, which is a pan-African incubator for female founders in STEM – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – where we discussed opportunities for early and mid-stage startups to find opportunities for advancement and to be able to scale up in the U.S. market.

I also met with several established women business leaders to learn from their experiences, to hear about their challenges, and also the opportunities that they saw in the South African market.  In Accra, we participated in the inaugural U.S.-Ghana Business Expo, which was hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Ghana.  This expo featured a trade pavilion that was buzzing with exhibitors from the companies on our trade mission but also about an additional 20 U.S. companies that already have a presence in Ghana, and they were able to showcase to the Ghanaian business community their innovative products and services.  The U.S. companies on this trade mission also held dozens of business-to-business meetings with Ghanaian companies to explore new business conversations.

In my conversations with both the U.S. private sector and my Ghanaian Government counterparts, we discussed the role that U.S. companies can play in Ghana’s economic recovery and the importance of addressing business environment concerns, including settling significant arrears in payments to U.S. critical infrastructure companies.  We held discussions focused on commercial solutions to cybersecurity challenges and also scaling electric vehicle charging in Ghana.  We also were able to bring together the distinguished heads of prominent U.S. black-led business chambers with the head of chambers from underserved business communities in Ghana, where they were able to engage in relationship building, peer mentoring, and sharing best practices.

Coming to my visit to Nigeria yesterday and today, I participated in an incredibly lively hack-a-thon that was hosted by Microsoft’s Garage, where we were focused on how to grow and promote the development of the electric vehicle, the EV industry.  Microsoft’s Garage is a center for company employees, customers, partners, and the public to collaborate in STEM fields.

There were conversations – I’m sorry.  Across all of these countries that we visited, there was a consistent focus on the digital economy.  I heard directly from my government counterparts and the private sector on the opportunities and challenges in the digital sector.  These conversations with our African partners already are and are going to remain critical to advancing progress under the U.S.’s Digital Transformation with Africa, or DTA.  This is an initiative that President Biden announced at last September’s U.S.-Africa Business Forum.  DTA aims to expand digital access and literacy, and also to strengthen the digital-enabling environments across Africa, all in line with the African Union’s Digital Transformation Strategy and the U.S. Strategy Towards Sub-Saharan Africa.

I’ll also want to note that today, I was delighted to facilitate a discussion with a group of leading Nigerian women in technology.  It was graciously hosted at 21st Century Technologies, a digital infrastructure and services company.  We discussed best practices for increasing access for women entrepreneurs to venture capital and other resources, to overcome the historic challenge of gross underinvestment in women-owned and women-led businesses.  During our discussion, I was heartened to see the strong relationships already being formed among our trade mission participants and Nigerian entrepreneurs, fostering deeper commercial collaboration and uplifting women in our communities.

As we move forward, the U.S. Commerce Department is going to continue bringing U.S. companies to the continent, engaging in these critical dialogues – which will foster an enabling environment for increased trade and investment – and also working towards our shared goal of mutual economic prosperity for citizens of both of our nations.

And with that, I’ll pass it over to Chargé d’Affaires Greene.

MR GREENE:  Thank you.  Well, let me just say quickly good afternoon to everyone and thank you, Johann, for putting together this briefing today.  I’m typically in Abuja, so it’s a real pleasure for me to be down in Lagos with Under Secretary Lago to welcome and to join her visit and that of the GDEI Trade Mission during this stop in Nigeria.

Just to quickly note that this is a very exciting time in the U.S.-Nigeria bilateral relationship, especially on the economic front, with the Tinubu administration taking and undertaking some of the structural changes that we think will create the foundation for new influxes of U.S. capital investment and increase two-way trade with Nigeria, and we’re already seeing a renewed interest by U.S. businesses and investors as well as other international investors.

We can talk more if you’d like about the opportunities here in Nigeria, but I’ll just sum up to say that Nigeria’s home to Africa’s largest democracy, population, and economy, and we really believe that Nigeria’s economic growth will bring stability and prosperity not only for the Nigerian people but also across West Africa, where Nigeria is such an economic heavyweight, through cross-border expansion and economic integration, including under the African Continental Free Trade Area.

So the United States remains committed to an enduring partnership with Nigeria, one centered on our aspirations for shared prosperity and mutual economic growth.

So I’ll stop there.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much, Under Secretary Lago and Chargé d’Affaires Greene.  So we’ll now proceed to the question-and-answer portion of today’s briefing.  We did have a few questions submitted in advance, so let me go to those first.

So the first question, which I think is a good way to move into the question-and-answer portion:  “Why did you choose South Africa, Ghana, and Nigeria for this particular trade mission, Madam Under Secretary?”

UNDER SECRETARY LAGO:  Thank you.  When we selected the particular countries for this trade mission, we were looking to ensure that we included some of the largest economies on the African continent.  We wanted to make sure that we selected countries whose economies had a strong presence in sectors that had strong prospects for U.S. companies, where there was the ability to match up the U.S. companies on this trade mission with companies in those countries.

I’ll also note that we were joined on this trade mission by some of the leading chambers, business organizations, that represent the black community, the Native American/Indian community, and the woman-led business community.  So through these trade missions, we are reaching thousands of other businesses in the U.S.

The other thing that we did is we reached out to the Commerce Department’s strategic partners to ask them where they thought there would be opportunities for the trade mission’s participants who came from historically underserved communities.

Now, as I mentioned, we are already looking forward to future trade missions, and we will continue looking to visit other countries on the continent as well.  Our mission is to support the competitiveness of U.S. businesses and their workers, and this includes micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises and also tapping into the very strong African diaspora which we have in the United States and which is a source of our strength and also a point of pride.

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much, Madam Under Secretary.  So next I’d like to go to a question which was submitted by Mr. Khalifa Dokaji of BBC Hausa in Nigeria, and this is a question for both panelists.  “In what ways will the initiative benefit Nigeria and other target countries of Africa?  With the crisis in Ukraine and Russia, African leaders have been agitating for the lifting of sanctions on waterways that allow the flow of grains and other commodities from other parts of the world to Africa.  What considerations is the U.S. doing with this project to see these problems addressed?”

UNDER SECRETARY LAGO:  I’m glad to handle the first part of the question.  I assume that the initiative that you are referring to is our Global Diversity Export Initiative.  And we see so much potential in it.  We know that in the United States, there are communities that have historically not been able to benefit as fully from the benefits of two-way trade and investment.  By tapping into our diaspora communities, by tapping into our women-led businesses, we think that we will have the opportunity to engage with countries across the African continent, and by doing so, take advantage of these diaspora ties – these ties of culture – and again, by doing so, expose U.S. companies, including some very small companies but with very cutting-edge solutions, to the opportunities that are present here in Africa.

MR GREENE:  I’m happy to take the second piece of the question.  Let me just preface it by saying our Africa policy is about Africa, not about Russia, and the trade mission and Under Secretary Lago’s presence here today speaks to the focus that we’re putting on our whole-of-government follow-up to the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit and our commitment to drive intensified engagement on the economic front for the benefit of the people of Africa and our partner nations and for the United States, of course.  And I think in the Russia context, it’s worth mentioning that it’s not really clear what Russia is offering in that regard or the kind of commitments it may or may not have made or may or may not be following up on, whereas for us that follow-up is really essential.

With regard to the question of grain sales and movement of grain in the context of the Russia-Ukraine crisis, I’ll simply note that it is Russia’s withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Initiative that makes very – a week before their summit with Africa – makes very, very clear Russia’s choice to imperil global food security and price stability, to punish Ukraine, and at direct detriment to the interests of the people of so many countries around the world but especially here in Africa.

So, and with regard to the question of sanctions and whether those impede grain flows and food security, the cutouts for grain in particular and for humanitarian goods across the board are very broad.  There is no threat to grain supplies posed by U.S. sanctions.  It’s Russia’s actions that are driving up prices and making food supplies and food security that much harder to come by.

MODERATOR:  Okay, thank you to both of our panelists for taking on those questions.  I’ve got a hand up from Vicky Stark of VOA.  Vicky, if you’d like to open your mike and ask your question live, otherwise I could read your question from the Q&A.  Just let me know if you can ask it live.

QUESTION:  Sure.  Can you hear me?


QUESTION:  Good afternoon, everyone.  Thank you.  So I’m based in Cape Town, South Africa, and I’d like to know how long this Global Diversity Export Initiative has been going for, how many U.S. companies have benefited, what the current value of U.S. exports to Africa is.  And what do you say to U.S. businesses; why should they invest in Africa?  Sorry, that’s quite a few questions.

UNDER SECRETARY LAGO:  The Global Diversity Export Initiative is relatively young.  It’s under two years old.  And I’ll note that this trade mission that you’re seeing is just one portion of the initiative.  It’d like to highlight a number of – another facet of it which we call Building Bridges to Global Markets.  And under that initiative, by the end of this year, we will have sent teams of trade experts from Washington to 17 locations within the U.S., and these are to locations that have historically underserved communities.  And we go there to be able to spread the word about the programming, the resources that are available.  And rather than requiring small businesses to go to the time and expense of coming to us in Washington, we go out to the communities.  Yes, we explain the resources that we have at the Department of Commerce.  But as importantly, we listen to the needs of the businesses in these communities that may be thinking about exporting.

And just to broaden the lens a little bit, Vicky, I should note that within the Department of Commerce and in particular within the International Trade Administration that I have the privilege of leading, we have trade experts deployed in over 100 locations within the United States.  Yes, the big cities that everyone knows of on the coast but also throughout the heartland of the U.S., including in rural locations.  And these trade experts are charged with understanding the local business, the local businesses in their geographies, working with the existing exporters but, as importantly, tapping into the businesses that are doing just fine within their communities, within their states, but have the opportunities to go global.

These 100 locations in the U.S. are paired with over 80 global locations where similarly we have trade experts.  Speaking of Nigeria, where I am located now, we have a Foreign Commercial Service presence here in Lagos and, and as I said, in 80 different locations.  There we have Foreign Commercial Service officers who are U.S. citizens, but we also very significantly hired locally employed staff who themselves are of the country and understand the business community, have a deep-seated understanding of the needs of their countries.  And it is through these two teams around the globe and in the U.S. that we are able to make the connections.

I want to make sure that I answer your other two questions accurately, and so we will get back to you on the number of companies that have been served under the GDEI initiative and also the dollar value of exports.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Madam Under Secretary.  And just as a reminder to everyone on the call, we do produce a transcript of the call and send that out to everyone who has responded to the invitation, and so we’ll facilitate any follow-up.

Well, the time is really moving fast, and I do want to be mindful of the time constraints of our speakers, so don’t have a lot more time to go.  But there was one additional submitted question I’d like to get to if we can, and that’s from Stephen Onyekwelu of the Edugist in Nigeria, who asks simply:  “How can we partner to educate Nigerians on this?”  And I think it’s an excellent question because, of course, we’re hoping that our colleagues in the press will report on this.  So to both panelists, how can we educate Nigerians and the other populations about the initiative?

UNDER SECRETARY LAGO:  Well, thank you, Johann, for starting with the obvious, which is the important role of having a free and open press, because you can amplify our messages.  I think that the people-to-people connections that have been made are going to bear fruit over not just the coming days but weeks, months, and years, because we know that trade and the relationships between our nations are very long-term investments, which is why we spend our time traveling.

And Chargé, with respect particularly to Nigeria, I know that you run a plethora of programs that are focused on this kind of people-to-people engagement.

MR GREENE:  Yes, thank you.  Yeah, I would certainly echo that this call is certainly a first step towards making sure we’re getting the message out about how the U.S. is seeking to advance all the different initiatives we have to advance business and trade ties and investment ties with the continent – excuse me – and specifically here in Nigeria.

We have a very active social media presence.  We do any number of people-to-people programs: our International Visitor Leadership Program, the Mandela Fellows, you name it.  We are constantly seeking ways to make sure that we are not just getting our message out to the Nigerian public and Nigerian individuals and businesses, but also hearing from them so that we understand what their needs are, what their aspirations are for the U.S.-Nigeria relationship so that we can make sure that we are serving both of our peoples effectively.

So between our media operations, our social media operations, our public affairs and public diplomacy sections in both Lagos and Abuja and of course the worldwide availability of information these days, we’re certainly committed to making sure that these initiatives are promoted and that folks understand what we’re pursuing and how they can take advantage of it.  Thank you.

UNDER SECRETARY LAGO:  If I might add one thing with respect to commercial relationships, I’ll note that in addition to focusing on enhancing the competitiveness of U.S. exporters, we also at the Department of Commerce work on attracting foreign direct investment into the U.S.  And every year we hold a SelectUSA Investment Summit near Washington, D.C.  This is a major undertaking.  This last year we attracted 4,900 participants from over 80 different countries around the globe.

These investors range from the largest sovereign wealth funds to multinationals from other countries but, importantly, also tech investors in startup countries around the globe who saw the potential to expand into the vibrant and large U.S. market.  And if I might note that one of the largest delegations came from right here in Nigeria; I had the pleasure of meeting with this delegation, and it was comprised of some of the country’s most innovative companies.

By coming to SelectUSA, they were able to hear from the President, President Biden; they were able to hear from six different U.S. cabinet secretaries; and importantly, they were able to meet with the economic development organizations from all 50 states.  And so this truly was a one-stop shop for making connections between Nigeria and also the delegations from the other countries from the African continent and the opportunities that abound in the United States.

MODERATOR:  All right, thank you very much.  So I appreciate our journalist from Govima Media submitting his question in the Q&A, and I think that the remarks of the under secretary actually go a lot to that question.  Madam Under Secretary, this last journalist who had his hand up was asking:  “In a tech growing economy, what major partnerships can be done to leverage young people in Nigeria and build a major tech community like Silicon Valley?  And this major impact shouldn’t be in Lagos alone.  It should be in each region of Nigeria.”  So I think your last comments, I think, got into that topic quite a bit.  Do you have any further remarks on that or any further remarks at all as we conclude the briefing today?

UNDER SECRETARY LAGO:  That’s a great question to conclude.  Thank you for that.  In each of the three countries that we visited on this trade mission, tech was very much front of mind.  And when we talk about tech, it is such a broad field.  It ranges from clean energy tech, it encompasses fintech, agritech, health tech.  And you are correct that no one country has a lock on it.  I’ll also note that when people think of tech in the U.S., it’s way too easy to think of just Silicon Valley, Boston, and New York City.  That is not the reality.  We have tech hubs, vibrant tech hubs, across the United States.  When people talk about the digital future, the tech future, I think it’s important to realize, yes, it’s the future but it’s here right now.  The opportunities are here right now.

MODERATOR:  All right, fantastic.  Mr. Chargé d’Affaires, David Greene, do you have any final comments as we conclude the briefing today?

MR GREENE:  Just to note and to follow up on what the under secretary was just saying, obviously Nigeria is an enormous and diverse country and with opportunity and potential everywhere, and it’s certainly part of what we consider our mission to take advantage of every opportunity we have to get out to the different states and the different regions to understand what’s happening, especially in the tech sector, which, as was pointed out, is sort of everywhere.  And Lagos is, of course, the hub for so much economic activity, but with such a vibrant and creative and innovative youth population in Nigeria, tech opportunities are everywhere in the country.  And we certainly seek them out and try and direct U.S. businesses and investors to them wherever we may find them.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Fantastic.  Well, I’d like to thank everyone, our two participants, Marisa Lago, Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade; and David Greene, U.S. – sorry, the U.S. Mission to Nigeria chargé d’affaires, for their time today.  And I want to thank all the journalists and especially those who submitted questions.  It was a very lively discussion.  I appreciate it.  The questions and the answers were all very good, and I personally learned a great deal today.

As usual with our hub calls, a recording and a transcript of the hub call will be produced as soon as we can get around to it, and that should be today probably, and will be distributed to all the journalists who signed up for the call.

If you have any follow-up questions, any questions about today’s briefing, please do contact the Africa Regional Media Hub at  And please, everyone, stay in touch with us and follow us on Twitter at our handle @AfricaMediaHub or through the hashtag #AFHubPress.

So that concludes today’s briefing.  Thank you very much to all participants.  Have a good day and be well.

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U.S. Department of State

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