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U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker Delivers Remarks in Saudi Arabia on Second Leg of Middle East Trade Mission

As part of her trade mission to the Middle East this week, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker delivered remarks today in Riyadh, Saudia Arabia at a luncheon hosted by the U.S.-Saudi Arabian Business Council (USSABC). Those in attendance at the luncheon included His Royal Highness Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, His Royal Highness Prince Abdulaziz bin Ahmed, the U.S. business delegation, and more than 300 business people from the United States and the Gulf region. 

President Obama will visit Saudi Arabia later this month to meet with His Majesty King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud and discuss Gulf security and peace in the Middle East. Ahead of the President’s visit, Secretary Pritzker is in Riyadh to underscore the close commercial and economic relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia. 

In today’s remarks, Secretary Pritzker discussed the importance of Saudi Arabia as America’s largest trading partner in the Middle East and North Africa region, and 10th largest partner in the world. Last year, bilateral trade reached $71 billion dollars, and in December, monthly exports from the United States to the Kingdom topped $2 billion dollars for the first time. 

Secretary Pritzker also highlighted that the 21 export-ready companies joining her on the trade mission are eager to do business in Saudi Arabia, and serve as partners on a number of the transportation and other infrastructure projects the country has undertaken. In fact, the U.S. Commercial Service, part of the Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration, has already helped nearly 500 U.S. firms build their businesses and sell goods and services in Saudi Arabia. 

While the U.S.-Saudi economic relationship remains strong, Secretary Pritzker stressed to the audience of business leaders that there is a desire to see more Saudi investment into the United States and more entrepreneurial opportunities for the next generation of Americans and Saudis. She noted that the King Abdullah Scholarship Program has already supported tens of thousands of students from Saudi Arabia to study in America and around the world.   

Secretary Pritzker also offered suggestions on how to further spur government-to-government collaboration and noted that the United States must continue working together with the Gulf region to build a regulatory environment that will help the bilateral economic relationship reach its full potential. 

Today marks the fourth day of Secretary Pritzker’s business development mission to the Middle East, which is focused on promoting U.S. exports and further strengthening U.S. commercial relationships in the Gulf region. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Thank you, Mr. Robertson. I want to recognize all of the other distinguished leaders here today – including: His Highness Prince Saud; His Royal Highness Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman  and His Royal Highness Prince Abdulaziz bin Ahmed. I want to thank the United States-Saudi Arabia Business Council for your warm welcome. 

Last September, I announced this Gulf trade mission in Los Angeles at the U.S.-Saudi Business Opportunities Forum, which the Council sponsors. I have been looking forward to this trip for many months. This is not my first time in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In 2011 -- as a guest of Khalid Al Fatah and Lubna Olyan -- my husband and I visited Riyadh, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, the Saudi Aramco facility in Shaybah, and the National Museum of Saudi Arabia. 

Today, I am so pleased to return to the Kingdom as Secretary of the United States Department of Commerce, and it is an honor to be among business leaders who – each day – strengthen the ties between our two nations. 

The level of interest from U.S. companies to join us on this mission was overwhelming. In fact, 80 companies applied, and we had to whittle that down to a delegation of 21. These companies possess world class expertise in renewable energy, architecture, and infrastructure. This is a fantastic group. Can you stand and be recognized? 

Looking back, U.S. and Saudi businesses have been building strong links between our countries for 8 decades. 76 years ago last week, the California Arabian Standard Oil Company – a predecessor to ARAMCO – struck oil near present-day Dhahran. This revealed the largest source of crude oil the world had ever seen – a discovery that would forever change Saudi Arabia and the Middle East. A few years later, in 1942, General Electric – represented on our trade mission – would begin supplying machinery to Saudi Arabia for oil expeditions. And in 1945, King Abdul Aziz (Ibn Saud) and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt met aboard the U.S.S. Quincy in the Suez Canal.  It was an historic moment that launched a friendship which continues to this day. 

And in just a few weeks, President Obama will make his second visit here, underscoring – just as FDR did – our close ties to the Kingdom. We are – of course – key strategic allies, and our security relationship remains crucial. In fact, Saudi Arabia recently purchased 72 F-15s – the largest purchase of its kind in history. Our two nations are strongly committed to preserving stability throughout the Gulf, and while we acknowledge that even close friends may sometimes disagree, that will never shake the foundation of our friendship. Our commitment to this relationship will not change even as the United States becomes more energy self-sufficient. America knows the importance of stable global energy markets – for ourselves, for our allies, and for our interdependent global economy. 

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the U.S.-Saudi relationship is the vibrancy of our commerce.  Saudi Arabia is America’s 10th largest trading partner in the world. Last year, our two-way trade reached $71 billion dollars. And for the first time monthly exports from the United States to the Kingdom topped $2 billion dollars in December. There is strong and growing demand for American cars, aircraft, machines, renewable energy technologies, and large-scale infrastructure. 

The Commerce Department is responsible for helping American companies enter and grow in foreign markets. Over the past four years, I am pleased to say that our Commercial Service has helped nearly 500 firms build their businesses and sell goods and services here in Saudi Arabia. For example, Headworks International – on our trade mission –is providing wastewater equipment and services to King Saud University here in Riyadh. Well-known American franchises are also entering the region. The Department helped Jamba Juice find a partner to open 80 stores in Riyadh and other Gulf cities. 

And, just a few days ago, an American startup company named Uber launched a new mobile-app, enhancing taxi service Riyadh. Clearly, American companies are succeeding in Saudi Arabia, and I believe that the best is yet to come. 

The 21 businesses on our trade mission are here to find partners and do more business. This morning -- in fact -- our delegation had two successful meetings. We met with the Ministry of Water and Electricity. The demand for these utilities is expected to grow 10 percent annually here in Saudi Arabia as the population continues to expand. I applaud Saudi leaders for their plans to invest more than $150 billion dollars over the next two decades to upgrade this infrastructure. And American firms hope to be part of these projects. They have deep experience and expertise that can help our Saudi friends gain consistent and affordable access to water and power. 

We also met with officials from the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy. Saudi Arabia has an ambitious goal of delivering nearly half of its energy from alternative sources, with nearly one-third of that from solar, and I am very pleased that several solar companies – FirstSolar, AREVA Solar, and SolarReserve – are part of our delegation. 

More generally, with a total of nearly $1 trillion dollars in current and future projects throughout the Kingdom, the opportunities for us to work together are enormous: from the $22-billion-dollar metro system here in Riyadh; to rail projects in several cities throughout the country; to the many “megaprojects” of more than $1 billion dollars. American companies can offer high-quality products and world-class services in project management, architecture, and engineering. They are eager to partner with government and industry here on these projects. 

The Kingdom is also making broad societal investments in education, healthcare, and affordable housing, which are key pillars of a more diversified, knowledge-based economy. American firms want to help accelerate and maximize the potential of the Kingdom’s exciting transformation. 

While our businesses are discovering new opportunities each day, our government-to-government relationship remains critical. We must continue working together to build a regulatory environment that will help our economic relationship reach its full potential. There is more work to do, but we are making progress. 

For example, we were pleased that Saudi Arabia was removed from the U.S. Trade Representative’s intellectual property rights “watch list” in 2010. And today, the Saudi government is making several important strides to protect intellectual property: The Kingdom has expanded penalties for copyright violators; It has reduced illegal software use; and, It has hired new patent examiners which the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will help train. 

Another example of government-to-government collaboration is in the area of commercial law. The Commerce Department is working with the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Commerce & Industry to create a legal environment that supports entrepreneurs. I strongly believe innovators need to be free to try – fail – and try again. 

In fact, we recently broadened this effort to include the entire Gulf Cooperation Council. In May, my Department’s Commercial Law Development Program will host GCC representatives for a week-long legislative drafting program on insolvency law and other commercial-law topics. 

Where else can our governments collaborate?  I offer three suggestions – that have been reinforced by the business leaders in our trade mission. First, over the years, our governments have adopted many of the same standards in sectors such as construction, health care, transportation, and manufacturing. I believe that we need to closely collaborate in setting standards to lower the costs of doing business. 

Second, our governments should maintain an open and transparent dialogue on customs facilitation. We need trade to flow smoothly across our borders for our businesses to be competitive. 

And third, as American businesses explore more partnerships with the Saudi government, we should foster greater transparency in the public tendering process. 

My job is to work hand-in-hand with the Saudi government to take these steps and others, which can lead to more growth, to mutually-beneficial partnerships, and to advancing the Kingdom’s vision for its future. 

Let me close by offering two additional ideas that can help us further elevate our commercial relationship. First, we would like to see more Saudi investment into the United States. President Obama established America’s first federal program to support inbound investment – called SelectUSA– which is run by the Commerce Department. Our commercial service officers here are connecting investors to the resources and assets that the United States offers – namely our universities, our large consumer base, our financial institutions, our research and development hubs, and our supply chains. 

Second, we must provide needed educational and entrepreneurship opportunities for the next generation of Americans and Saudis. The King has already set a great example for us through the King Abdullah Scholarship Program. Tens of thousands of students from Saudi Arabia study in America and around the world. These young ambassadors have built ties that will flourish for decades to come. If I may quote King Abdullah, the program is designed “for them to know the world… and for the world to know them.”  I applaud his vision, and hope we see more student exchanges. Also, I have the great honor of being President Obama’s chair of the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship – whose mission is to inspire more startups around the world. I am particularly excited about this endeavor, and I look forward to my meeting later today here in Riyadh with a dozen male and female entrepreneurs. 

Clearly, we are entering a dynamic new era in our commercial and economic relationship, and as we think back over our shared history, we should remember that businesses helped to establish the first links between our nations – well before the historic meeting between Ibn Saud and President Roosevelt. 

Right now is our moment to develop relationships that will endure into the future. Fundamentally, that is the goal of this trade mission – developing relationships. I want to thank our hosts – and the people of Saudi Arabia – for their warm welcome to our delegation. Shukran. Thank you. 

Please join me in honoring the Council and its leadership – as I present a small token of our appreciation to Peter Robertson and Mohammad Al-Mady. Thank you.