MODERATOR: Greetings to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Dubai Regional Media Hub. I would like to welcome our participants joining us from the Middle East and around the world for this on-the-record briefing with Jose Fernandez, Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment.
Under Secretary Fernandez will provide a readout of his trip to the United Arab Emirates and Oman, including his participation in the I2U2 Forum in the UAE and the U.S.-Oman Strategic Dialogue. Under Secretary Fernandez will also discuss the expanding relationships for trade and investment in the region, as well as the latest U.S. efforts to tackle global challenges, such as energy security and climate change.
After opening remarks, Under Secretary Fernandez will take questions from participating journalists. We are pleased to offer simultaneous interpretation for this briefing in Arabic. We request that everyone keep this in mind and speak slowly. To listen to the call in Arabic, select the Arabic audio channel at the bottom of your screen by clicking the globe icon. (In Arabic)
We are only able to take live questions in English during the call. We have received questions submitted in Arabic in advance.
I will now turn it over to Under Secretary Fernandez for his opening remarks. Sir, the floor is yours.
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Thank you very much. And good afternoon, everyone. Thank you very much for this opportunity to speak to you today. This is my first trip to the region since I began working as Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment in August of 2021. In my prior stint in government as assistant secretary for Economic, Energy, and Business Affairs in the first five years of the Obama administration however, I probably came here nearly a dozen times to the GCC countries. So I am delighted to be back.
In Dubai and here in Muscat, I have and will continue to meet with government officials, business leaders, and other stakeholders to collaborate on critical global economic issues that affect us all. These are topics that include supply chain resilience, the clean energy transition, and the promotion of inclusive trade and investment opportunities.
In Abu Dhabi, I represented yesterday the United States in the I2U2 Business Forum. This is a unique pairing of countries that’s comprised of India, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States. And the purpose of I2U2 was to increase joint investments and initiatives across six sectors. These sectors are water, energy, transportation, space, health, and food security. I2U2 reinforces the Biden-Harris’s administration’s goal to build on the Abraham Accords and other normalization agreements to advance regional integration here in the Middle East.
At the forum, the partner countries discussed opportunities to increase regional cooperation in the Middle East and also advance investment opportunities that address some of the partner countries’ most pressing needs, including how to manage the energy crisis and how to deal with the food insecurity unleashed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The I2U2 group aims to mobilize private sector capital to modernize infrastructure and also promote the development of emerging green technologies while ensuring near and long-term food security. The I2U2 group now has a pipeline of projects, I’m happy to say, in solar, wind, and rail transport infrastructure.
In the meetings that I held with UAE officials after the I2U2 – and actually during the I2U2 meetings as well – I also discussed bilateral climate and clean energy cooperation, and also our shared economic priorities, priorities that include the preparation by the UAE to host COP28 in November of this year in Dubai.
In the UAE, I was also joined by U.S. Special Envoy for Global Food Security who works in our cone, Dr. Cary Fowler, who traveled to the region, was in the region. And I asked them to come to help us advance our shared food security priorities.
In Oman this morning, I led the U.S. delegation to the first U.S.-Oman Strategic Dialogue. This is a strategic dialogue that was long awaited by both sides and that we have great hopes for. This morning, we focused on spurring bilateral trade and investment, developing clean energy solutions, and also strengthening our cultural and educational ties.
So overall, I think this has been a very productive trip. I’m very happy with the results. I’m happy with the reception that I’ve received in both the UAE and here in Oman. And I was grateful to meet with many leaders, who I believe share our vision of a more inclusive and prosperous future for all of us.
And with that, let me turn it over to you, Sam, and hopefully take some questions from our colleagues. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you so much, Mr. Under Secretary. We will now begin the question-and-answer portion of today’s call. Just a reminder, to ask a question, raise your hand in the app or website, or type it into the Q&A window. For those asking questions, please limit yourself to one question related to the topic of today’s briefing. Questions submitted in advance have been incorporated into the queue.
I will start with the first question from one of our colleagues who submitted a question in advance and that comes from Mohamed Maher from UAE’s Al-Ain News. And Mohamed asks: “Mr. Under Secretary, can you please tell us more about the outcomes of your visit to the UAE, and are there any new MOUs regarding food security within the I2U2 grouping?” Over to you, sir.
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Thank you for the question. Food security is a subject that has been dear to our policy for many years now, and – but it’s been exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Since the invasion, since February of last year, I’m proud to say that the U.S. has dedicated $13.5 billion in humanitarian and food security assistance.
The World Food Program has estimated that there are over 800 million people around the world that are facing hunger. There are humanitarian needs that far outstripping the resources globally. And so something that we are working on as part of I2U2 is to increase our capacity to provide sufficient, affordable, and nutritious food by, among other things, promoting agriculture, and also seeing how we can adapt and prepare for the anticipated affects of climate change.
We have as one of the projects that’s being pursued in the I2U2 format is a food corridor project in India. And this is part of an effort by all – by the four countries to find ways to mitigate the hunger that we’re seeing around the world and we’re seeing exacerbated by the invasion.
We are committed to supporting efforts to identify new markets and build food systems, and that – we – because we think that’s the only way to reduce the immense demand for humanitarian assistance and to deal with food security. We’ve also, as you know, have led the – at the UN actions on food security. And last year, we were part of – we led a ministerial in food security that was – committed over 100 signatories to commitments in the global crisis.
And something that we’re also working on is making it clear – making it clear – that the hardship that we’re seeing as a result of Russia’s invasion has nothing to do with our sanctions. Our sanctions explicitly exclude food, explicitly exclude fertilizer. And in fact, you’ve seen that Russia’s agricultural production has – is virtually the same as it was before the war. So we are not creating this crisis; the crisis is being created by the inability of Ukraine and other countries to export food as a result of Russia’s invasion.
And so in I2U2 food is one of the main objectives of our group. And we are going to continue pursuing it. And I’m happy to say that there – we have a number of projects being considered now, not only in the four countries, but also in other countries that will hopefully, hopefully make a dent in our existing food crisis.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you, sir. Our next question goes to the live queue, and it goes to Mike Wagenheim from i24News. Mike, your line is open. Please unmute yourself and go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Sam. Thanks for doing this briefing, Under Secretary. I wanted to ask you if there’s any correlation between this week’s U.S.-Oman Strategic Dialogue and the announcement today that Oman is going to open up its airspace to all carriers, including from Israel. Any correlation there?
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Sir, not that I know of. This is a – the strategic dialogue is a dialogue that we have been talking about holding for several years now. It’s – there are three items that we were discussing: trade and investment, clean energy, and also strengthening our cultural and educational ties.
We have a free trade agreement with Oman that we’ve had – one since 2009. Our trade with Oman has increased substantially in the last few years. In fact, in the last – from 2020 to 2021, trade increased by 30 percent. Our bilateral trade and exports from Oman to the U.S. between – in the last year have grown by 47 percent. So we’ve got a lot to build on.
Oman has been a good partner of the United States for many years. It’s one of our oldest allies actually since we had – in 1833, we signed the treaty of friendship and commerce with Oman. So we’ve had a longstanding commitment, but that agreement that you just related to was not part of the discussions today.
I think as we go forward, we are going to continue discussing, as a result of the strategic dialogue, trade and investment, the clean energy. What the Omanis want to do on green hydrogen is an area that we believe we can be involved in, we can support, and we will continue to do that.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you very much, sir. Our next question is another question from a pre-submitted question. Give me just a second there. Sorry. Our next question is another pre-submitted question from Charbel Barakat from Kuwait’s Aljarida Newspaper. And Charbel asks: “Sir, is the I2U2 Initiative a framework to confront China’s influence in western Asia? Are there any plans to expand it and include other countries, such as Egypt, for example?” Over to you, sir?
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: What I2U2 is about is seeing what we can do together – the four countries – in this region and beyond. It’s intended to pursue a positive agenda in the areas that I mentioned – water, energy, transportation, space, health, and security, and – because we believe that together the four of us can tackle some of the some of the most important issues of our time, and not only as governments but also by mobilizing private sector capital, by mobilizing our expertise, and by building on a number of technological initiatives that all of us are pursuing, including green technologies, which is an area that all four countries are —have affirmed their support for us.
So no, it is not about confronting anyone. It’s about seeing what we can do together jointly in the region, and to demonstrate the benefits of an agenda that pursues joint cooperation going forward.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you so much, sir. The I2U2 does include one of those ‘I’s – it does include India – so I want to make sure we get a chance to take a question from an Indian journalist or from a journalist from India. And so we’re going to go to Sidhant Sibal from WION India. Go ahead. Sidhant, if you can hear us, I believe you need to mute yourself.
QUESTION: Hi, sir. I’m Sidhant from WION. My question, pretty simple question – what do you see India bringing to the table when it comes to this grouping, the importance of India, and how India can contribute to the larger positive agenda, as you pointed out, of the grouping – if you can point out to the Indian role in the grouping?
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Well, India is already bringing a lot to our group. The two projects that we have selected, the two initial projects, one of them being the food corridor project and the other one the 300-megawatt wind and solar project in Gujarat, are both in India. But it goes beyond that. On health, India is a world leader in the manufacturing of vaccines, in – on the energy side, India has huge ambitions for a clean energy future and is pursuing substantial solar and wind technologies to that effort. On critical minerals, there are plans in India to manufacture more electric vehicles. Well, those require critical minerals that India is interested in pursuing now together with the other three of us.
So all of these initiatives are (inaudible) of the objective being pursued by the Indian Government, and that’s why, again, together, we all stand to benefit from this from this effort.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you, sir. We have time for just a few more questions. We’ll go to another pre-submitted question, and this question comes from our colleague Wael Badran from the UAE’s Al Ittihad Newspaper. And Wael asks: “How can the I2U2 forum help in combating climate change, especially since the UAE is hosting COP28 later this year? Can you tell us more about cooperation in this field of climate change?” Over to you, sir.
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Sure. Thank you. Thank you for the question. We have – we’re very encouraged by the efforts being undertaken by the UAE on climate change. We have full confidence in their ability to manage a successful conference. They are pursuing a number of programs around the energy transition. And Dr. Al Jaber, the UAE’s special envoy for climate, helped – just to give you one example – helped to establish the UAE’s renewable energy fund at Masdar, where he serves as chairman. He was also a key partner in the development of an agreement that we signed in November of last year, the Partnership for Accelerating Clean Energy. It’s an agreement that we signed, that the U.S. and the UAE signed in Abu Dhabi last November.
And look, the UAE is a major fossil fuel producer, but it’s also a crucial partner in furthering our joint efforts to combat climate change, because we’re not going to get to where we want to go unless major fossil fuel producers are also part of that effort.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you, sir. We’ll go to a question from the live queue, and that’ll go to Anthony Di Paola from Bloomberg News based here in the UAE. Anthony, your line should be open. Go ahead and unmute yourself and ask your question.
QUESTION: Hi. Good afternoon. Thanks for taking the call. I wanted to also follow up on the energy aspect. I mean, you mentioned the energy crisis in terms of supply, as well as the COP being here. And given that it looks like we will have some increase in energy demand towards the end of the year, kind of dovetailing with the time that COP is here, I wanted to know if you could characterize your discussions with your UAE counterparts about energy supply and climate through the end of the year. Did you speak to them about potentially supplying more oil and more energy to global markets as this year goes on? And given that role, again, and the intersection between supply and climate and – (inaudible) producer – what’s the message for them in terms of deliverables for this COP?
UNDER SECREATARY FERNANDEZ: Yeah. So we didn’t discuss that as part of the I2U2 conversations. We did talk about making sure that it’s in everyone’s interest to reduce the impact of Russia’s invasion by, among other things, making sure that supply must meet demand. But that was not a subject of – really of our conversations, which were, for the most part, limited to the I2U2 effort.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you, sir. We have time for one last quick question. And we’ll do another pre-submitted question, a little bit related to the previous question but perhaps there’s some other aspects of this. And that comes from Claudia Carpenter from S&P Global Platts, based here in the UAE. And she asked if there were energy deals or related items discussed or signed between the U.S. and UAE and/or Oman during your visit, sir. Over to you.
UNDER SECREATARY FERNANDEZ: Well, I mean, look, energy is obviously an important topic in our conversations with both the UAE, Oman, and then a number of other countries in this region. As I mentioned earlier, just a couple months ago we signed the partnership – we launched the Partnership for Accelerating Clean Energy with the UAE to transition our two countries towards clean energy and do it by catalyzing private investment.
Here in Oman, I have spent a lot of time discussing the – Oman’s interest in developing green hydrogen and carbon capture technology. That’s something that they have been very vocal in supporting. They’re also being very – been very vocal in saying that they are looking to expand their electricity generation capacities here to derive at least 30 percent of electricity from renewables by 2030.
Just – in the morning, as part of our strategic dialogue, EXIM Bank and Oman signed a memorandum of understanding whereby EXIM will allocate as much as $500 million for financing in projects, which could include – very well could include green hydrogen projects. And so, energy was discussed. We are very excited by the opportunities here in Oman in terms of green hydrogen, and we’ll continue to discuss it.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you, sir. And I’ll turn it back over to you, Under Secretary, if you have any closing remarks or anything you’d like to leave with our journalist participants today.
UNDER SECREATARY FERNANDEZ: Well, first of all, thank you for your questions. I appreciate them. These are all good questions. The larger point is, number one, that I intend to return soon, because I think the opportunities for partnership here in Oman and with the UAE and elsewhere are high, especially as I look on some of the – some of the more existential questions of our time: issues of climate change, food security. And those are items where the Gulf countries are all going to be key if we are going to achieve a future that’s cleaner and also where hunger is not the problem that it is today. So they are part of the solution and – for some of the existential questions of our time, and I intend to come back soon in order to pursue them. And thank you for listening.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you so much, sir. That concludes today’s call. Apologies to all the many journalists who had their hands raised and submitted questions. We couldn’t get to all of them today, but we’re looking forward to having the under secretary with us again in the future to discuss more with you all these important issues.
I would like to thank Jose Fernandez, Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, for joining us. And I’d like to thank all of our colleagues from the media for participating. If you have any questions about today’s call, you can contact the Dubai Regional Media Hub at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you and have a great day.
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 The United States and Oman concluded a treaty of friendship and navigation in 1833. It was replaced in 1958 by the Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rights, and the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1972.