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MODERATOR: Good afternoon to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub. I would like to welcome our participants dialing in from across the continent and thank all of you for joining this discussion. Today we are very pleased to be joined by the Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs, Manisha Singh, and the Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of African Affairs, Ambassador Matthew Harrington. Our guests today will discuss the 2018 Secretary of State’s Award for Corporate Excellence and U.S. private investment in Africa writ large.
We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from Assistant Secretary Singh, followed by remarks by Ambassador Harrington. We will then turn to your questions. We will try to get to as many of them as we can during the time that we have, which is approximately 30 minutes. At any time during the call if you would like to ask a question, you must press *1 on your phone to join the question and answer queue. If you would like to join the conversation on Twitter, please use the hashtag #AFHubPress, and follow us on @AfricaMediaHub and @EconAtState. As a reminder, today’s call is on the record, and with that, I will turn it over to Assistant Secretary Singh.
SINGH: Thank you so much, and I want to thank everyone on the call for joining us today. This is a very exciting topic for us. The State Department is committed to promoting U.S. commercial engagement around the world, and we’re particularly interested right now in focusing on what we can do in Africa.
As you all know from your briefing materials, tomorrow we are presenting the Secretary of State’s Awards for Corporate Excellence. We are very excited because this year, for the first time, we are presenting an award to a company for excellence in Women’s Economic Empowerment. We think the time is right for companies worldwide to focus on how we can better bring women into the workforce, particularly in Africa. We want to see young women, young girls thrive by having economic opportunity, which not only controls their ability to make a living but their own fate.
This year, both of our winners are trailblazing companies that work closely in their communities. They inspire ethical values and high business standards. Our company that has won the award for Women’s Economic Empowerment is a company called Alaffia. It’s a health and beauty products company. It directly employs over 700 women in rural Togo. It pays four times the average family income and it’s contracted with more than 14,000 women as suppliers. So you can see that the benefits for empowering women are not only in the women that it directly employs, but in the supply chain effects of benefitting women and therefore benefitting communities in Africa. And that’s part of our goal in promoting women as leaders. We want to help them; we want to help their communities thrive and succeed.
Both President Trump and Secretary Pompeo have recognized significant opportunity for economic growth when we close the global gender gap. It’s been found that closing the gender gap could increase worldwide GDP by as much as $28 trillion by 2025. Empowering women to lead in every industry isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the right economic policy for us all.
We’re also presenting an award to PVH Corporation for its excellence in Sustainable Operations. PVH is one of the world’s largest apparel brands. It’s a lead investor in the model industrial park in Hawassa, Ethiopia, and PVH is investing in factories powered by renewable energy. They have many operations which will protect Ethiopia’s environment while contributing to its economic success.
The World Bank has rated Ethiopia this year as the second fastest growing economy in the world. PVH’s investment in the citizens and economy of Ethiopia will bolster this historic growth. What distinguishes American investment from the rest of the world is that we prioritize viable, sustainable success for years to come. We care about the companies in which we are investing. These companies symbolize the broad power of U.S. investment to transform economies and empower workers throughout Africa. Our regional approach emphasizes private sector-led engagement. Our companies have the resources, the innovative know-how, and the knowledge that will fuel Africa’s future economic growth and development. And again, our goal is to provide a sustainable path to economic success.
I’d also like to talk about some new and ongoing initiatives that we have to support growth and development, that we are doing in partnership with African nations. The State Department has provided $50 million in funding for the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative, better known as WeFi. This facility is aimed at tackling the full range of barriers that women face as entrepreneurs and business owners. The first round of funding will include about $45 million for eight countries in sub-Saharan Africa for a five-year period. The U.S. government’s Overseas Private Investment Corporation, or OPIC, has a ConnectAfrica initiative that will allot more than $1 billion for projects that catalyze private sector investment. It will benefit companies, it will benefit supply chains in Africa.
We were also very pleased to see the passage of the Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development Act, better known as the BUILD Act. The BUILD Act will more than double U.S. development finance resources to $60 billion. This will mobilize the participation of private sector capital as African countries continue to prosper economically. All of these initiatives will promote approaches that aim to unleash the power of the private sector. We think that developing the African private sector in partnership with American companies often is the right path for sustainable economic development.
As the head of the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs here at the State Department, we look forward to working with all of our missions and embassies, our personnel, U.S. embassy personnel, throughout Africa to continue to partner for success for African economies. Thank you, and with that I’m going to turn to DAS Harrington to share his thoughts.
HARRINGTON: Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be with you today and to celebrate a good news story from the continent. I want to echo Assistant Secretary Singh’s warm congratulations to the PVH Corporation and to Alaffia for winning this preeminent award. As Assistant Secretary Singh noted, the exemplary work by both companies reflects high ethical values and high business standards, two strengths we believe make U.S. companies especially competitive as they look to invest more on the continent of Africa. I wanted to talk just briefly about our overall economic goals on the continent.
Among our policy goals in Africa, strengthening trade and investment ties is a top priority for the United States. As many of you know, the African Growth and Opportunity Act has been the centerpiece of the U.S.-Africa economic relationship since 2000. We would like to see those countries eligible for AGOA diversify their exports to the United States beyond just a few products. After all, AGOA permits the duty-free entry of more than 6,000 product lines into the U.S., and most AGOA-eligible countries only take advantage of a few of those.
We also hope to encourage more U.S. companies to consider investing in Africa, but ultimately the predominant responsibility for making that happen falls on African governments to create an appealing business environment. There are a number of activities the United States is engaged in that can be helpful in that regard, including capacity-building and technical assistance for African governments, through three regional trade hubs that we sponsor on the continent, and the strong support we provide to young African leaders and women entrepreneurs across Africa.
We would also like to see many more African companies investing in the United States and creating jobs here. There are some prominent examples of that, but we would like to encourage much, much more African investment in the United States as well. Let me just end there with those few introductory comments, because I know you have lots of questions. Congratulations again to the PVH Corporation and to Alaffia, and I look forward to your questions.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you, Assistant Secretary Singh and Ambassador Harrington. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call. For those asking questions, please state your name and affiliation and limit yourself to one question related to the topic of today’s briefing, the 2018 Secretary of State’s Awards for Corporate Excellence and U.S. private investment in Africa. For those of you listening to the call in English, please press *1 on your phone to join the question queue.
Our first question was received via email, it comes from Radio Pyramide in Togo. The journalist asks, “What are the criteria the State Department takes into consideration when identifying companies to honor?”
SINGH: I think I can probably answer that question. As I mentioned, our ACE awards are now in their 18th year, and when we look at what companies to honor, in general, we have categories of investment. For instance, this year, when it came to Women’s Economic Empowerment and Sustainable Operations, we look at those particular topics but we look at the broader company. We look at how the leadership operates. Does the company – does the governance of the company – include good practices, sustainable practices? We want to see that these companies are viewing the communities around them, that they are contributing to the communities and not just taking things away. We like to see community engagement. We like to see that these companies are employing individuals locally, as both PVH and Alaffia have done.
So the main theme I would emphasize is engagement and sustainability in the communities in which they operate. And in particular, this year, with Alaffia, as I mentioned, not only do they employ women, but they’re also providing benefits and employment to women throughout the supply chain. So more than just the 700 women they employ, the benefits of their company reach thousands of women. So that was particularly important to us when awarding this year’s first-time award for Women’s Economic Empowerment.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Our next question will go to the listening party in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Operator, can you open the line, please?
OPERATOR: The line is open for Nick Barnett.
QUESTION: Hello. Thank you, madam secretary and ambassador. My name is Fekadu from The Reporter, Ethiopian newspaper. Madam, I just want to bring your attention to the point that PVH is one of the award-winning companies for corporate excellence, but the question is, there are issues when it comes to a company such as PVH in terms of trade union establishment within the industrial park that is already in place in Hawassa, which is the thing that needs to be one of the [UNCLEAR] to say you know, between the employees and the employers, which they are not allowing them to have a trade union? That is one.
The other is, there is the agreement between the employees and the companies with regards to having a modest payment, at least, to say, there is no minimum wage, not in Ethiopia but the company’s, most of the companiespaying for their employees, it can be referred to as exploited wage. So with this highlight, how do you see and how do you find companies to award such as PVH that, I mean – they have been, you know, for quite a while in the media, as well as, you know, trade unions, have been fighting for that. Thank you very much.
SINGH: Thank you for that question. We certainly encourage all companies to come to mutually agreeable resolutions with their employees. You know, we support good employment practices, good governance, and we would like to see all of our winners of the ACE corporate awards to take the time to review any of the problems that they’re having, and again, hopefully come to successful resolutions.
For PVH, our award that we are giving to them is for Sustainable Operations. We looked at their operations in terms of their provisions of renewable energy and the friendly environmental practices that they implemented, and we thought that they should be recognized for that. But the issues that you raised, again, we would just say that we hope that companies are able to come to good resolutions with their employees and workers. Ambassador Harrington, you might have something to add.
HARRINGTON: Yeah, sure, the only thing I would add is I think ultimately there’s an expectation among American consumers that the companies they buy products from behave ethically overseas. That is an expectation that has grown and is significant now, and I think is an important guidepost for companies as they establish operations overseas.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Our next question will go to the listening party in Harare, Zimbabwe. Operator, if you can open the line, please?
OPERATOR: Yes, that line is open for Caroline.
QUESTION: Thank you for the opportunity. My name is Godwin Mangudya, I’m with the Voice of America, Zimbabwe service. I will direct my question to Ambassador Harrington. Are you happy with the economic reforms being undertaken by the new government in Zimbabwe, and what feedback are you receiving from United States investors in Zimbabwe or those intending to invest in Zimbabwe?
HARRINGTON: Thank you, Godwin, for that question. Obviously Zimbabwe has gotten a lot of attention around the world, certainly here in the United States, in the aftermath of the political changes we’ve seen over the last year. Our view is, this is an opportunity for Zimbabwe to set itself on a very different trajectory than it’s been on for the last 20 years, and we are hopeful that we can have a better relationship with Zimbabwe and that Zimbabwe returns to being a responsible partner in the international community.
In order for that to happen though, there need to be profound political and economic reforms. I think President Mnangagwa is saying a lot of the right things and sending a lot of the right messages to the international community, and we will look to see what the implementation of those commitments looks like. I think it’s important, though, to remember that both the political reforms and the economic reforms are necessary to moving forward and put the country on a different path, and those things are inextricably linked.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Our next question we’ll give to Simon Ateba of Today News Africa. Operator, can you open the line, please?
OPERATOR: And Simon, your line is open.
QUESTION: Thank you, my name is Simon Ateba from Today News Africa in Washington D.C. Thank you, Secretary Singh and Ambassador Harrington. Thank you both for your clarification of what you are doing in Africa. We are glad to be here as several of our emails to the Bureau of African Affairs has not been replied or even [UNCLEAR].
Now, my question. We know that China has taken over Africa. They are building an international airport in Angola, signing deals all over the place, bringing in their laborers rather than employing local Africans, in addition to flooding the continent with substandard materials, while not doing anything about human rights What is the U.S. doing to counter China in Africa in terms of investment? Lastly, if President Donald Trump [UNCLEAR] matters, when he seems to have distanced hiself from the African continent? Thank you.
SINGH: Thank you very much for those questions. Maybe I can start with a few comments and then Ambassador Harrington probably has thoughts here as well. I think you asked a very important question, and I want to assure you – assure everyone on the call – that this is something that is very much on the radar of the U.S. government right now. As I mentioned, we are looking to engage more fully in Africa, and our theory on engagement is that it should be led by our private sector.
As you know, we, the United States do business very differently than China. We want our private sector – our companies – to go into Africa and create jobs there – and I would point out that our ACE award winners this year – both PVH and Alaffia – have employed local Africans in the communities in which they operate. As I mentioned, PVH has been recognized for its sustainable operations, and Alaffia for, in particular, employing women in Africa, and so that’s something that our companies do, exactly as you indicated. They go into the communities in which they’re operating and provide economic benefits, sustainable environments. That’s not something you’re going to see from China. I think your observations are absolutely spot on. The Chinese will come in and not necessarily take advantage of the local labor force. You know, environmental standards, human rights, are really not relevant for them.
For us, we the U.S. government ensure that our companies are going to operate responsibly in foreign markets. We have a civil society that takes a look at how U.S. companies are operating overseas. So there are many factors which contribute to responsible operations for U.S. companies, and as Ambassador Harrington observed earlier, at this point, U.S. consumers want to buy products – whether it’s coffee or retail goods – that are sourced responsibly. People will ask us, “Are these goods fair trade?” “Are they made with human rights considerations in mind?” And so for companies, it really is good business right now to behave and operate responsibly. You will not find that with China, and so we are providing – we think – a better alternative to Chinese state-directed investment.
You’ll note that I mentioned earlier our BUILD Act, which provides up to $60 billion in development finance assistance right now to help U.S. companies operate overseas. For us, that’s again leveraging private sector investment. Secretary Pompeo has said that our goal is not to compete with China dollar-for-dollar, but rather have our private sector help African economies grow and prosper. We think that that’s the better model. Ambassador Harrington may have something to add as well.
HARRINGTON: Yeah, thank you, and I could not describe the China and Africa issue any more eloquently than that. I would just add – I’m a career diplomat, I’ve lived in eight African countries, five of those as a U.S. diplomat, and in most of those China was very, very deeply engaged. In all of those countries I sensed a real concern among ordinary citizens of those countries about the way that China operates and engages in those countries, you know, whether it’s the flouting of labor laws or the predatory lending practices, so that is a real issue, and as the Assistant Secretary laid out, we think our companies offer a much better, credible alternative.
You also asked a question about U.S. engagement in Africa generally, and let me just address that. We are very engaged, we continue to be engaged in a number of sectors in Africa, and our engagement has long had very strong bipartisan support, whether it’s support for the African Growth and Opportunity Act, legislation signed under the Clinton administration, to the creation of the Millennium Challenge Corporation and PEPFAR, two programs which are having such an impact across the continent in positive ways. This program started under the Bush administration, and I could go on. Power Africa… we’re doing a lot of very, very positive things. Secretary Ross, our Secretary of Commerce, is leading the President’s Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa and led visits to the continent several months ago, and we’re looking at providing a number of recommendations on how we can further strengthen our trade partnerships on the continent. So we are engaged across the board, and looking at new and exciting ways to do so as well.
SINGH: I think that those are all great examples, and I would just also add that President Trump is actively exploring a free trade agreement with the sub-Saharan African countries. We have conversations ongoing with a few countries, and we are hopeful that will come to fruition soon.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you very much. Unfortunately, Assistant Secretary Singh has to leave the call, so I have many, many questions and many people waiting to ask questions. I encourage you, please, to reach out to us at the Africa Media Hub via email. We will get answers to all of your questions electronically. But we do have to close for today. Assistant Secretary Singh, do you have any closing remarks?
SINGH: You know, Tiffany, I actually have a few more minutes. I’m happy to take one last question and then give some closing remarks.
MODERATOR: Okay. I think we will send it off to Kevin Kelley from Nation Media Group, Kenya. Operator, is he still on the line?
OPERATOR: Yes, and that line is now open.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks for doing this today. I won’t detain you, but your answer may require some time. So the BUILD Act, I’m looking for more details on how that might differ from what OPIC has been doing traditionally, historically. My understanding is that the new legislation allows for OPIC to take its own equity stake in some businesses, some operations in Africa. Is that correct? And if it is, can you please give me some specifics, if you can – I realize it’s not taken effect yet – on how OPIC might enable U.S. businesses to do more differently than has been the case in the past. Okay, thanks.
SINGH: Those are great questions, and due to my limited time here, we are happy to follow up and get back to you. Tiffany, maybe you can help facilitate providing a more complete answer, but in general, I would say one of the major components of the BUILD Act is expanding OPIC’s authorities. And of course, the $60 billion is almost double the resources, so we’ll provide additional resources. It gives OPIC expanded abilities and authorities.
We are also creating a bigger Development Finance Corporation, because as you may know, development capabilities are spread throughout several agencies in the U.S. government, and we thought for efficiency and for effectiveness, let’s bring those capabilities under one umbrella, the Development Finance Corporation. Secretary of State Pompeo will be the chair of this new entity, and we’re hoping that we can streamline and better utilize, as the Act mentions, our resources to provide the types of things that our private sector needs to be able to invest in developing economies in Africa.
So it’s additional resources. We can get you more specifics on the exact answer to your question. We’ll get back to you on that.
And with that, Tiffany, I’m going to go ahead and make a few closing comments as well. Again, we want to thank everyone for your time and your participation on this call. We just want to emphasize right now that the U.S. government, President Trump, Secretary Pompeo, we are very focused on engaging and partnering in Africa. We think that your success is our success. Our private sector companies are looking for opportunities. And I can tell you after having had conversations with many of them, they are looking at sub-Saharan Africa as the perfect place to go – and again, to employ local populations, to engage in communities, to contribute to the economic success of each of the countries there. We will consider this to be a winning operation for us all. I thank everyone for their time again.
MODERATOR: Ambassador Harrington, do you have any closing remarks? Okay. So with that, I want to thank both Assistant Secretary Singh and Ambassador Harrington for their comments today and for joining us, and to thank all of our callers for participating. We will follow up with the questions that were submitted to us, but if you have any further questions about the call, you may contact the Africa Regional Media Hub at email@example.com. Thank you.