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U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker Inaugurates U.S.-Pakistan Economic Partnership Week

Monday, March 9, 2015
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U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker arrived in Islamabad, Pakistan today to launch the first-ever U.S.–Pakistan Economic Partnership Week. Her visit is critical to the United States’ overall efforts to boost bilateral trade and investment with Pakistan.  

Secretary Pritzker met with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at his office and joined him in inaugurating the week.

“Global investors need to know that Pakistan is opening for business,” said Secretary Pritzker. “It is in the United States’ interest for Pakistan to be a stable, peaceful, and tolerant nation, with a growing economy, at peace with itself and its neighbors. This week, we will focus on ways to increase trade and commercial ties between our countries and create new opportunities for Pakistanis and Americans alike.” 

U.S.-Pakistan Economic Partnership Week includes the third U.S.-Pakistan Business Opportunities Conference, a two-day event March 10-11; a working-level Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) meeting between the Pakistani and U.S. governments; and several other bilateral engagements scheduled throughout the week.  

Secretary Pritzker, who is on her first official visit to Pakistan, thanked senior government officials for their dedication to improving the U.S.-Pakistan economic relationship and acknowledged the economic relationship between the two countries has, over the years, buttressed the overall relationship and is still growing.  

A full transcript of Secretary Pritzker’s remarks launching the U.S.-Pakistan Economic Partnership Week is included below. 

Remarks As Prepared for Delivery

Good afternoon. I appreciate the opportunity to join Prime Minister Sharif to kick off U.S.-Pakistan Economic Partnership Week.  

This week is focused on expanding commercial ties between the United States and Pakistan; highlighting the progress Pakistan is making on its economic reform agenda under the Prime Minister’s leadership; and sending a signal to businesses in the United States and around the world that Pakistan is opening for business.  

This week is intended to demonstrate our shared commitment to a strong U.S.-Pakistan economic relationship, which is an essential component of any long-term, broad strategic partnership. Our friendship allows us to communicate candidly and work together to prevent small disagreements from distracting us from our larger shared goals, which include defeating terrorism and building prosperity for our people. These objectives form the basis of our partnership. 

I want to be clear: it is in the United States’ interest for Pakistan to be a stable, peaceful, and tolerant nation, with a growing economy, at peace with itself and its neighbors. This is the 3rd U.S.-Pakistan Business Opportunities Conference. Previous conferences were held in London and Dubai; we are so pleased to hold the conference here in Pakistan. 

This week, we will focus on four ways to deepen the trade and commercial ties between our countries and create new opportunities for Pakistanis and Americans alike. 

First, the United States is committed to supporting Pakistan’s goal to become more globally competitive. We are Pakistan’s largest export destination and largest source of foreign direct investment. Unfortunately, sales to the U.S. have declined in critical sectors and investment into Pakistan has slowed in recent years. However, we are encouraged by the fact that Pakistan has largely stabilized its economy and remained on an IMF program, which should create opportunities for business growth. 

Earlier today, I had the opportunity to meet with some of the many U.S. businesses that are operating successfully here in Pakistan. I asked them to explain this trend, and heard about challenges surrounding Pakistan’s business climate, unpredictable governance and tax collection, difficult security environment, and widespread energy shortages. These issues are not unique to Pakistan. When companies are unable to guarantee the security of their employees, they cannot justify a major capital investment to anxious shareholders. When rolling black-outs halt production on assembly lines across the country, it is difficult to make goods and sell them into foreign markets. When contracts are not enforced or intellectual property is not protected, the private sector is reluctant take on risk.  

I know these are hard truths, but I am confident that these challenges can be overcome. We are committed to working with you as a partner and friend to improve the security environment and provide entrepreneurs and foreign investors the opportunity to thrive; to build a modern energy infrastructure, introduce new clean energy technologies, and support market-oriented pricing policies that spur an expansion in the development of Pakistan’s domestic gas resources; to build a level playing field that promotes predictability and consistency in the application of commercial law; and to capitalize on the stabilization of the past two years, and the more business-friendly environment in Pakistan. 

Second, we want to support the growing community of Pakistani entrepreneurs. Before I joined the Obama Administration, I spent 27 years in the private sector and started 5 businesses.  This is why the President has asked me to lead the United States. government’s effort to foster entrepreneurship at home and around the world.  

I understand how fulfilling it can be to take an idea and turn it into a business plan, and then build that plan into a viable business. I also know firsthand how daunting it can be to try to attract financing when you have no revenue and no customers, just an idea. Whether in Pakistan, Poland, or Peru, entrepreneurship is an essential driver of prosperity and of freedom. 

Let me highlight a few examples of how the U.S. public and private sectors are collaborating with the Pakistani government and Pakistani industry to support entrepreneurs in Islamabad and across the country. Earlier this year, Google teamed up with Samsung, the Pakistan Software Houses Association, and U.S. Consulate Karachi to launch the NEST I/O—short for “innovation in the open.” This technology incubator will link young Pakistani entrepreneurs with other entrepreneurs at 28 Google-sponsored hubs around the world.  This type of collaboration will drive global innovation. 

Recently, the U.S. Embassy and The Indus Entrepreneurs, located here in Islamabad, opened Pakistan’s second annual StartUp Cup competition, which is a seven-month business mentoring program that trains aspiring Pakistani entrepreneurs—many of whom are women—to develop business models, find customers, and bring their products to market. And just a few weeks ago, Ambassador Olson inaugurated the first "Women's Entrepreneurship Center of Resources, Education, Access, and Training for Economic Empowerment"—otherwise known as WE CREATE. This Islamabad-based center will provide training, mentoring, and networking opportunities to budding female entrepreneurs. We know that any economy can only reach its full potential when it taps into 100 percent of its talent.  

Third, we want to make it easier for firms investing in Pakistan to access capital. The U.S. government has a number of financing tools available to support U.S. exports and investments. Let me focus on just two innovative efforts, among others, that we are deploying here in Pakistan. USAID launched the Pakistan Private Investment Initiative in June 2013. This effort has combined U.S. funding with private equity capital to make over $150 million available to small businesses in Pakistan.  The first investments will be made this summer. 

In addition, USAID will provide a partial guarantee to four private banks to spur lending to small and medium sized businesses. Small and medium sized businesses are significant catalysts for growth in Pakistan and around the world, and we know that to prosper, they need access to capital. 

Fourth, and finally, we want to use this week, and tomorrow’s conference, to promote Pakistan as a destination for global investment. Too many businesses still view Pakistan as a country that is inhospitable to investment. We want to help change that perception.

Of course there are challenges here, but let’s not forget this is a market of nearly 200 million people, with a growing consumer class, and a government that is committed to economic reform, promoting job growth, and improving the nation’s business climate. 

What global investors need to know is that Pakistan is opening for business. Even today, dozens of U.S. companies operate successfully here, but we want to double or triple that number in the coming years.  And the U.S.-Pakistan Business Opportunities Conference, which will open tomorrow, is an opportunity to start that process and build economic momentum for businesses in both countries. Companies who have enjoyed success in Pakistan will tell their stories and share their experiences.  Companies who are looking to enter the market will meet potential partners and learn how to operate in this market.  

This entire week is an opportunity to deepen bilateral commercial ties and further integrate our private sectors into our relationship. Before I conclude, Mr. Prime Minister, I want to thank you for hosting us, and I give you a great deal of credit. Pakistan has been a strong ally in our fight against terrorism and your nation has made great sacrifices alongside us. You also came into office in June 2013 during a period of considerable macro-economic instability. Since then, you have pursued the critical but challenging path of economic reform. 

Your government has worked to introduce new sources of fuel into the country, to open up your telecommunications sector, and to relax critical barriers to trade and investment. These were difficult but important first steps. Your government’s commitment to unlock Pakistan’s economic potential, address the energy situation, privatize state owned enterprises, and improve the business climate will be critical.  

Every part of Pakistani society will benefit from reform. I look forward to tomorrow’s conference, and to continuing our conversation. Thank you.