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U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker Delivers Remarks on Africa Trade Mission Announcing U.S.-Africa Business Forum​

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Speaking this morning to a group of business leaders in Lagos, Nigeria, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker said that the United States sees tremendous economic opportunity in Africa.  As part of efforts to deepen commercial relationships between the United States and African markets, Secretary Pritzker announced that the U.S. Department of Commerce and Bloomberg Philanthropies will co-host a U.S.-Africa Business Forum on the first day of the upcoming Africa Leaders Summit in August in Washington, DC.  She also discussed other efforts that the Department of Commerce is making to advance the trade and investment pillar of the U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa, including expanded operations of Commercial Service operations throughout the Continent.

In her remarks, Secretary Pritzker also reiterated that the United States is a committed partner in Nigeria’s economic progress and will work with the country to promote opportunity and security, while also rooting out  corruption. She also reinforced the United States support for Nigeria as they work to combat extremist groups like Boko Haram.

Secretary Pritzker is in Africa this week leading 20 American companies on an Energy Business Development trade mission to Ghana and Nigeria.  The goal of the mission is to promote U.S. exports and expand U.S. companies' presence in Africa by helping American firms launch or increase their business in the energy sector. The firms joining the mission have the expertise to help African countries develop and manage energy resources and systems, as well as build out power generation, transmission, and distribution.


Remarks As Prepared for Delivery 

It is an honor to address such an esteemed group of Nigerian business leaders, entrepreneurs, and students. I want to thank you for welcoming us and our dynamic and diverse group of 20 American companies that are joining us on this energy trade mission. 

Let me start by telling you why we are here. President Obama and this Administration see tremendous opportunity in Africa. President Obama has called it “the world’s next great economic success story.” Africa is home to seven of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world. Real income has increased more than 30 percent over the last 10 years, reversing two decades of decline. According to the World Bank, almost half of Africa’s countries have attained middle-income status. GDP is expected to rise six percent per year over the next decade. And by 2040, Africa will have a larger workforce than India or China.

President Obama is committed to deepening the relationship between America and all the nations of Africa, and developing a new level of mutual understanding and respect based on a shared commitment to freedom, democracy, social progress and economic growth.

In Nigeria in particular, the opportunities are abundant. You are home to the largest economy in Africa, and one in five people on the Continent are Nigerian. Not only do our governments stand together as partners and friends, but our companies – as evidenced by this trade mission – are eager to forge stronger partnerships in Nigeria.

But before I go on, I want to offer my condolences to the families in Jos, following the tragic attack there yesterday. And I want to address the issue that is on all of our minds. To the north of here in the town of Chibok, hundreds of families are without their daughters today. As a mother of two myself, my heart breaks for these girls and their loved ones and friends.

All parents, no matter where they were born or where they reside, hope that their children are always safe, and that their children have the opportunity to realize their dreams. That these young girls were kidnapped while pursuing their education is particularly unsettling, and the world is anxiously awaiting their safe return.

The United States is supporting Nigeria as it works to find and free these young girls. A team is now in place at our Embassy to provide military aid, assist in information gathering, and more. Last weekend, the United States attended a meeting in Paris where President Goodluck Jonathan and the heads of state of the countries bordering Nigeria -- Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin -- pledged to work together to combat Boko Haram. With them, the U.S., France, the EU and the UK agreed that to prevent violent, extremist groups from making inroads into vulnerable communities, a comprehensive approach to promoting opportunity, inclusion, and security must be implemented in the region. We will help Nigerians do that. Our commitment is long-term; we will stand by Nigerians as they strive to defend and protect their sons and daughters, husbands, brothers, sisters and mothers.

For all of the promise here in Africa, situations like this raise serious concerns. The threat of violence, corruption in government and business, and a lack of trust threaten Nigeria’s continued progress.

Despite these challenges, the United States has been and continues to be a committed partner in your progress. Back in 2012, President Obama outlined his vision for how the United States and Africa would work together toward a mutually-beneficial future. The “U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa” laid out a comprehensive policy that would achieve four specific aims: strengthening democratic institutions; advancing peace and security; promoting opportunity and development; and spurring economic growth, trade, and investment.

These goals are inextricably linked. The United States has a number of initiatives in place to help Africa make progress in each of these areas. At the Department of Commerce, our goal is to advance the trade and investment pillar of the President’s strategy. This trade mission is a sign of commitment by our government to support anew U.S. business focus in Africa.

Today, nearly 600 million Africans (two-thirds of the people on the Continent) lack electricity, including millions here in Nigeria. This problem is particularly stark in rural areas where 85 percent of the population does not have power.  Studies have shown that Africa will need $300 billion in investments to achieve universal electricity by 2030. Already, the U.S. Government has committed $7 billion toward Power Africa, and has secured additional commitments totaling $14 billion from 35 private-sector partners. Simply put, Power Africa is designed to catalyze new financing and investment in energy solutions that will help Nigeria – and the five other countries that comprise Power Africa -- provide reliable electricity to its citizens.

Already, Power Africa has closed on transactions totaling nearly 3,000 megawatts, with an additional 5,000 megawatts in the planning stages. Here in Nigeria, the Power Africa initiative is providing technical assistance as your government privatizes its electricity industry, an effort that could add 2,000 megawatts over the next five years.  We are also working together to attract additional private investment, and to secure financing for renewable-energy projects. In addition our commercial-law experts are creating a library of documents to help streamline the process for negotiating and closing agreements and transactions under Power Africa.  Next month in Abuja, we will hold a workshop to increase the use of these documents among utilities and regulators.

Power Africa is just one example of our long-standing commitment to ensuring Africa’s continued growth and prosperity.  Let me give three more. First, we are pushing for the seamless renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, of which Nigeria is the top beneficiary.  As many of you know, AGOA allows 6,400 products from eligible Sub-Saharan African countries to enter the U.S. duty free. For 2013, U.S. imports under AGOA totaled $26.8 billion. Going forward, our hope is that Nigeria will take advantage of AGOA to diversify its economy, fulfilling the vision of the legislation. In fact, AGOA is a key topic that I will discuss in Ethiopia later this week with members of the African Union.

Secondly, the Commerce Department itself is dedicating more human resources to Africa.  Nigeria is already home to one of our largest commercial service teams on the Continent.  These dynamic individuals work every day to help American companies find new partners and customers here.  And I am pleased to say we just announced that we are increasing our footprint across Africa. We intend to expand our commercial service in Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, and Libya. And for the first time ever – we will open offices in Angola, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Mozambique.

A third measure that will benefit Africa is an opportunity that will grow entrepreneurship on the continent – the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship. Here in Nigeria, where youth unemployment is roughly 40 percent, we want to support innovators as they launch new startups and create jobs. This is crucial for long-term stability and economic growth. The Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship, or PAGE, is a group, I chair of 11 well-known and very successful U.S. entrepreneurs who have committed their time, networks, advice and ideas to advancing entrepreneurship all over the world. Africa will be an ongoing focus for this high-profile group.

In sum, the U.S. government brings a lot to the table when it comes to our commitment to Africa. But we have not come alone. U.S. businesses have decades-long relationships and experience in Africa. Many of the companies on this mission are already doing business in Nigeria, and are looking to do more. The United States is the largest source of foreign direct investment in Nigeria, with a total stock valued at $8.2 billion in 2012. But President Obama believes we should do more.

I am pleased to announce that on the first day of the Africa Leaders Summit in August, the largest of its kind that any U.S. President has initiated with African heads of state, President Obama has asked me to assemble CEOs from both Africa and the U.S. to discuss ways to deepen commercial relationships and strengthen the presence of U.S. companies in African markets. This U.S.-Africa Business Forum, which will be co-hosted by the U.S. Department of Commerce and Bloomberg Philanthropies, will increase partnerships in industries such as financing, infrastructure, energy, agriculture, information and communications technology, and more. While America’s ties to the African Continent are stronger than ever, this Forum will help spur even more trade and investment between Africa and the United States. We are excited about this CEO Forum. But it does not change the fact that there is much work to do.

The bottom line is this: We all want American businesses to invest in Africa.  We want them to stay in Africa. And we want them to create jobs and prosperity both here and in the United States.

But for U.S. businesses to come here, stay here, and help you achieve your full potential, Nigeria needs to take the tough steps that allow businesses to truly thrive. Our companies want to do business in countries that follow the rule of law, maintain ethical standards, abide by workplace safety, encourage workforce training, and protect intellectual property. These are the conditions that will increase trust and confidence among international and local business leaders and encourage further investment.

Nigeria has made impressive and important progress in recent years. It has joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, and adopted new anti-corruption laws. We welcome these steps. At the same time, laws only operate on behalf business and the people when they are enforced predictably and reliably. Businesses seeking to invest in agriculture, health care, transportation, tourism, information and communications technology and manufacturing must have the conditions to operate free from unnecessary regulation, government interference and corruption.

Nigeria needs the active participation of business and civil society to successfully root out corruption. Nigeria should adopt the international best practice of providing whistleblower protections. Honest citizens who are willing to alert authorities to corruption as it is taking place are your best resources in this fight. The steps that government takes to counter corruption must be reinforced by predictable regulations that help companies not only enter the market, but support their ability to do good business. Such conditions that promote ease of doing businesses will open Nigeria to more investment and innovation. As more companies succeed in Nigeria, they will act as “change agents.”

We also encourage Nigeria to implement its public procurement laws according to international best practices and to join the World Trade Organizations Government Procurement Agreement. I am confident that the Nigerian government, business and civil society leaders can develop home grown solutions to these challenges and act as agents of change.

Together, the U.S. government, the Nigerian government, the business leaders in this room and American companies that are committed to Nigeria can lay the foundation for prosperity, jobs and sustained economic growth. Fundamentally, I believe that together we can, must, and will move forward on all fronts – from strengthening our security, to ensuring that democracy can flourish, to spurring more trade, investment, and economic opportunity to benefit all of our citizens.

Why am I so confident? Let me share a poignant story. Every day, I have the privilege of working with a diverse array of talented people at the United States Department of Commerce. This group includes Julie Wenah, whose parents emigrated from Rivers State to Houston, Texas in the 1980s.  Julie is a lawyer who works in our Office of General Counsel and also helps organize trade missions such as this one.  Julie – Can you raise your hand? Julie comes back to Nigeria every few years to see her relatives, including her brother who works for the Governor of Rivers State.

To me, Julie is an example of how the coming generations of Americans and Nigerians will continue to weave even stronger ties between our countries.  Julie said this about helping organize this trade mission: “My heart is full to be here serving the United States in my family’s homeland.  My father who has passed had high ambitions for his children, but I myself never conceived that I would be here in Nigeria doing such important work. It is such an honor to be part of the effort to build a bridge between our businesses and our people.”

Let us fulfill Julie’s vision and our vision of building that bridge in the months and years ahead. It will require all of us to work together – our entrepreneurs and business leaders, our government officials, and our citizens themselves. But if there is anything I have learned on this trip so far, it is this: We can accomplish great things if we work together towards common good.

Thank you.