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U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker Delivers Remarks at the Gulf Region Business Councils Luncheon

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker delivered remarks today at a luncheon co-hosted by the U.S.-U.A.E. Business Council, the U.S.-Qatar Business Council, and the U.S.-Saudi Arabian Business Council. In her remarks, Secretary Pritzker discussed the decades-long security and commercial relationship between the United States and the Middle East and the growing opportunities for U.S. businesses in the region. She also highlighted Commerce Department initiatives to help U.S. businesses enter markets in the Middle East. 

In March, Secretary Pritzker will lead 21 U.S. firms looking for export opportunities in the infrastructure sector on a trade mission to the United Arab Emirates, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. The trade mission will focus on areas such as project management and engineering (including construction, architecture and design), clean and renewable energy (solar, wind, waste-to-energy), smart grid and energy efficiency, and environmental technologies (including water/wastewater, air pollution control, and waste management).

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Thank you, Ambassador Al Otaiba. I want to thank all three councils for hosting us: The United States – United Arab Emirates Business Council, The United States – Saudi Arabian Business Council, and the United States – Qatar Business Council. I also want to recognize Ambassador Al-Jubeir.

All of you here today have built strong bridges and warm friendships between the United States and the Gulf.  It is an honor to be with such a distinguished group of business leaders.

Over the years, I have traveled to the region several times for both business and pleasure – to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Riyadh, and Doha. I saw the Saudi Aramco facility in Shaybuh. I visited the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. I have met with young people studying in the UAE. I made great friendships and enjoyed the hospitality of the wonderful people throughout the region. And I am thrilled to be returning to the Middle East next week for my second trade mission as Commerce Secretary. 

Of course, much has changed – and is changing – since I last visited the Middle East. The UAE is modernizing and expanding its health system. Qatar is making major investments in education to benefit their young people. Women will be able to vote in next year’s local elections in Saudi Arabia. 

And all three countries have committed to major investments in their infrastructures in the coming years. These are all significant developments, and the United States applauds them. 

The fact is that America’s historical ties to nations in the Gulf run deep.  Our security partnership – an important foundation for our friendship – goes back many decades. 

Today, more than 35,000 members of the U.S. military are stationed around the Gulf.  And we continue to sell military equipment to our allies in the region, which, among other things, promotes interoperability. For example, Saudi Arabia recently purchased 72 F-15s, the largest purchase of its kind ever.  Also, the Administration is supporting UAE’s efforts to upgrade its F-16s and buy 30 new F-16s. And we have approved sales of sophisticated missile defense systems to both the UAE and Qatar.

These ties reflect a time-honored partnership between the United States and the Gulf.  And while we acknowledge that friends have disagreements from time to time, we know that strong relationships can thrive through challenges.

Our strategic partnership has bound us together -- but at the same time -- our commercial and economic relationship is becoming more vibrant, more visible, and more critical. It is important to celebrate our progress in this realm.

Let me highlight a recent success story.  In 2012, the company Jamba Juice – based in Northern California – reached out to our team at the Commerce Department’s Export Assistance Center in San Francisco. Jamba Juice perceived opportunity to do business in the Middle East but need to know more about the market.  They decided to take advantage of our “Gold Key” service, which provides a company with a tailored plan to break into a foreign market – with market studies and introductions to potential partners to expedite a firm’s entry into the marketplace.  (Perhaps some of you here have used Gold Key.) Our teams in San Francisco and Dubai went to work for Jamba Juice.  They compiled market studies and introduced the company to potential partners – master franchisees.

Last month, they announced a deal.  Dubai-based Foodmark will build 80 stores over the next 10 years across the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman.  This is just one example of how the Department of Commerce can help a business expand and succeed in the Middle East.

And clearly there will be more opportunities for American businesses in the region. The middle class is expanding quickly in Gulf States, increasing the demand for U.S. products and services; the region is becoming a global gateway for trade and commerce with new hubs and booming cities; and Gulf countries are crafting long-term visions for the future – visions that America can help the Gulf fully realize.

It has been 15 years since a United States Commerce Secretary has taken a trade mission to the Gulf. The level of interest has been overwhelming for export-ready companies to participate in a Middle East trade mission focused on infrastructure. With over 80 applicants, it was very hard to whittle this number down to 21.

Bottom line: Businesses are excited about these markets.

Let me provide a brief preview of the upcoming trade mission.

We begin in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.  The United Arab Emirates have become a magnet for global conferences and trade shows, and the UAE is home to some of the world’s most dynamic free trade zones. Today, American exports to the UAE have more than doubled since President Obama launched the National Export Initiative just four years ago.

Last November, at the Dubai Air Show, American firms announced the largest series of contracts in commercial aviation history. Over $100 billion in U.S. aircraft and engines are heading to the UAE (as well as Qatar) over the course of the next decade, supporting tens of thousands of American jobs.

And, with nearly 1,000 American firms having a presence in the UAE – and with UAE’s powerful role as a re-exporter to the Middle East, Africa and South Asia – our relationship will only get stronger.

The UAE has extensive plans to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in building a national rail system, airports, ports, roads, urban transit, and solar power. 

The American companies participating in our mission will be there to showcase their products and services.  In particular, our firms are eager to partner in major undertakings such as the Dubai World Expo in 2020, Mohamed bin Rashid City, and Abu Dhabi Vision 2030.

Simply put, American businesses have the capability to assist the UAE in achieving its goal of becoming an even more powerful regional and global hub for business.

From the UAE, we will travel to Riyadh. As you know, America’s bilateral ties with Saudi Arabia date back to the 1930s when U.S. companies discovered oil.  In the ensuing decades, this relationship has become our anchor in the Gulf. (And we all look forward to President Obama’s second visit to Saudi Arabia in just a few weeks.)

Last September, I spoke at the third U.S.-Saudi Business Opportunities Forum in Los Angeles – the previous two were held in Atlanta and my hometown of Chicago.  Each event had more than 1,000 businesses attending who are excited about this market. And for good reason.

Monthly U.S. goods exports to Saudi Arabia topped $2 billion for the first time ever in December.

And like the UAE, there are numerous opportunities for American firms to serve as partners in infrastructure projects in Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom is looking to invest $1 trillion dollars in current and future projects, and American firms can offer world-class expertise in project-management, architectural, and engineering services. Our businesses want to participate in projects ranging from the Riyadh Metro, to renewable energy initiatives, to rail development.

Finally, the delegation will travel to Doha to put a spotlight on America’s growing relationship with a dynamic nation that continues to punch above its weight.

Over the years, U.S. companies have supplied much of the equipment for oil and natural gas development in Qatar.  More recently, demand for American products has expanded to aircraft and vehicles – bringing the total of U.S. exports to Qatar in 2013 to a new record of $5 billion dollars. 

Qatar is launching exciting new projects that will change the face of the country. They will spend more than $200 billion on: three new subway lines, three light-rail lines, a new state-of-the-art airport, major road improvements, a deepwater seaport and many other multi-billion-dollar projects. 

As we all know, Qatar is building 9 new stadiums for the 2022 World Cup – the first-ever World Cup in the Middle East. Colorado-based CH2MHill is serving as project manager for the World Cup.  And I should note that the Commerce Department has already conducted not one, but two reverse trade missions for Qatari World Cup officials to the United States.

I am confident that our visits to all three countries will be fruitful, given the scope of infrastructure being invested, as well as the strength of products and services that our companies offer. At the same time, the excitement among my counterparts in these governments is strong and greatly appreciated.

Beyond our efforts to connect American businesses with opportunities in the Gulf, the Commerce Department is proud to partner with the governments in each of these 3 countries:

For example, our Commercial Law Development Program is working in areas such as intellectual property protections, natural resources law, and decriminalization of bankruptcy (so that entrepreneurs can test ideas and innovation in the marketplace – we must protect their ability to try, fail, and try again).  This program is active in all three nations.

In addition, our National Institute for Standards and Technology recently hosted Saudi scientists to share ideas on measurement standards. 

And we have collaborated closely with the UAE on export controls in order to strengthen security and international trade for both of our countries.

On a broader scale, the United States is very supportive of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s efforts to extend its focus beyond the security realm.  In fact, last June, we held the first meeting under the US-GCC Framework Agreement for Trade, Economic, Investment, and Technical Cooperation. 

Through this new dialogue, the United States will support the region’s efforts to harmonize laws, regulations, and standards so that companies – both here and there – can more freely trade and invest. We are particularly supportive of a Uniform Commercial Code, which – if adopted – will help businesses operate and move goods with more confidence and certainty. 

In sum, strengthening the commercial climate will pay huge dividends for the GCC and their trade relationships in the years ahead.

And as these nations roll out their long term visions -- I believe there are even more opportunities for us to work together over the next decade.

For example, the Department of Commerce can help Gulf businesses that want to invest in the United States through SelectUSA – America’s first ever national foreign direct investment program. We can build on the momentum from the Global Entrepreneurship Summit that was held in Dubai last year.  I intend to do that in my role as chair of the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship – a group that will support entrepreneurs and startups in regions around the world.And, while fossil fuels remain vital to economic growth, we must expand our joint efforts in renewable energy and energy efficiency.  I am particularly pleased that clean energy is an area of expertise for several companies joining us on our trade mission.

In closing, President Obama and I are fully committed to strong US-Gulf relationships.  Both of us know that business leaders like you play a central role in helping ensure prosperity and peace in the 21st century.

Thank you for sharing that vision.  Thank you for your warm welcome today as we embark on this exciting trade mission.