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Keynote at the U.S.-Saudi Business Opportunities Forum, Chicago, Illinois


Wednesday, April 28, 2010



Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke
Keynote at the U.S.-Saudi Business Opportunities Forum
Chicago, Illinois


Good afternoon. I am so pleased to be here in Chicago this afternoon.

Minister Alireza, thank you for being here today. And Jim, thank you for your kind introduction. Jim and I both come from Washington state. And Boeing is a critical part of our home state’s economy and its identity. I take tremendous pride in the sustained success it enjoys here in the United States and around the world.

Let me also thank the organizers of this conference, the U.S.-Saudi Arabian Business Council, and the Committee for International Trade of the Saudi Council of Chambers of Commerce and Industry. For 17 years, the Business Council has promoted bilateral trade relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia, and the Committee for International Trade has been a strong partner in developing business relationships for many years.

In fact, after my remarks, both of these organizations will receive Certificates of Appreciation—which they have truly earned—for their long-standing support of U.S.-Saudi trade relations.

Earlier this week, I took part in President Obama’s Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship, which many of you have likely heard about. When he was in Cairo last year, the president promised to hold this forum as part of a more comprehensive engagement with Muslim-majority nations and communities based on mutual respect, mutual interest and mutual responsibility.

At this forum we had men and women from more than 50 countries and five continents.

Some of them were entrepreneurs, some investors. Some ran companies, foundations and non-profits, while others founded them. They represented the vast diversity of human experience, but what united them was a recognition of the immense and vital role that a vibrant private sector has in promoting economic opportunity, and in improving the standards and quality of life for all.

This is something that the organizers of this event have supported for years. And as the world continues to emerge from this once-in-a-generation economic crisis, it’s never been more important for us to expand trade and economic cooperation across our borders.

We’re fortunate that Saudi Arabia and the United States have a strong foundation of trust to build on.

And today, we are poised to begin a new chapter of that relationship.

Saudi Arabia is now taking unprecedented steps to expand and diversify its economy into new, knowledge-based industries.

A cornerstone of this effort is a pledge to invest $400 billion over the next decade in infrastructure projects.

These investments include:

  • Greatly expanding and improving Saudi Arabia’s rail system;
  • Pouring funding into Saudi’s water infrastructure; and
  • Creating from the ground up economic zones to channel this flurry of economic activity.

American companies have the expertise and the resources to help Saudi Arabia reach these ambitious development goals. The opportunities for commercial engagement are simply immense.

And even as American companies help Saudi Arabia with these new initiatives, there will continue to be opportunities as the Saudis improve existing military, petrochemical and electrical infrastructure.

When you look at the sum of these projects, you see a country that is demonstrating vision and a commitment to generational growth.

In Saudi Arabia, nearly four in 10 of its citizens are under 14 years old. And when these young people are old enough to start looking for work, it’s critical that there is a growing and diversified economy that can absorb them into the workforce.

So what we have here is a crystal-clear example of a win-win situation.

Saudi Arabia is embarking on an historic development project, and U.S. companies can help it succeed.

As U.S. companies invest more in, and export more to Saudi Arabia, it’s going to create more jobs here in Illinois and across America.

And that is the number one priority of President Obama and his administration.

To replace the jobs we have already lost and to create new, better paying jobs, the Obama Administration is taking bold steps to grow our economy. Central to these efforts is a renewed focus on exports.

A few months ago, President Obama announced the National Export Initiative (or NEI), which aims to double American exports over the next five years and support two million jobs here at home.

There have, of course, been previous attempts by the U.S. government to elevate the importance of exports. But what sets the NEI apart is that this is the first time the United States will have a government-wide export-promotion strategy with focused attention from the president and his Cabinet.

This initiative was designed with one overriding goal in mind: to get people back to work in jobs that provide security, dignity and a sense of hope for the future.

With the NEI, American businesses that want to export—especially small and medium-size enterprises—are going to have a more vigorous partner in the U.S. government.

And that is vitally important because today less than 1 percent of America’s 30 million companies export. And of U.S. companies that do export, 58 percent export to only one country.

The NEI will help improve these figures by fundamentally focusing on three things:

Number one, the NEI will improve access to credit, especially for small- and medium-sized businesses that want to export.

In particular, the president has called upon the Export-Import Bank—which enables critical financing when private banks are unwilling or unable—to increase its financing available for small- and medium-size businesses from $4 billion to $6 billion over the next year.

Number two is continuing the rigorous enforcement of international trade laws to help remove barriers that prevent U.S. companies from getting open and fair access to foreign markets.

The American people need to feel confident that when we sign an agreement that gives foreign countries the privilege of free and fair access to our domestic market, and that we are treated the same in their countries.

And the third part of the NEI is a more robust effort by this administration to expand its trade advocacy in all its forms. This is the area of the NEI where the Commerce Department will be doing its most significant work. We will be:

  • Educating U.S. companies about opportunities overseas;
  • Directly connecting them with new customers; and
  • Advocating more forcefully for government procurement contracts, which will obviously be especially important in Saudi Arabia in the months and years ahead.

To help meet the trade promotion goals laid out in the NEI, the president’s proposed 2011 budget is going to provide new resources to Commerce’s International Trade Administration (ITA) and the US Department of Agriculture—allowing us to hire trade specialists that will help link U.S. businesses with buyers overseas.

One of my favorite programs available through our trade promotion office is the Gold Key Matching Service, which leverages the talents of our commercial service staff to help American business expand into foreign markets.

If you’re an American firm and you want to sell your goods or services abroad, all you need to do is pick up the phone and call 1-800- USA-TRADE.

Commerce Department experts will then:

  • Conduct an international search to find potential agents or distributors for your unique business;
  • Contact potential overseas business partners;
  • And they will work with you to design and implement a market entry or expansion strategy

Think of it as matchmaking for exporters. We'll keep searching for partners and customers for you until you find the right fit.

These services have already been used to great effect in Saudi Arabia.

Ask the Lessard Group, an architectural firm based in Virginia. Last year, our commercial service put together a three-stop Gold Key tour that resulted in a $1.7 million contract to design a new medical facility in Riyadh.

Or look at Illinois Blower, which is based in Cary, Illinois and manufactures centrifugal fans and industrial blowers. Last year, after the Commerce Department’s Commercial Services arranged a Gold Key tour for them in Saudi Arabia, Illinois Blower signed a contract with a Saudi partner to sell and provide services to the Saudi technology, survey and engineering sectors. And this contract is expected to be worth several million dollars a year.

These are success stories that must be replicated again and again. And with the National Export Initiative, we will have the resources and the focus to make it happen.

Of course, even as the Obama administration continues our vigorous efforts to promote exports, we know that there are limits to what we can do.

Governments have an important role to play in convening, mobilizing and facilitating. We can develop policies and incentives to spur trade.

I’m proud to report, for example, that our Under Secretary for International Trade is leading a public health trade mission to Saudi Arabia in June.

And that an Energy Infrastructure Trade Mission, which will be led by a senior department leader will visit Jeddah, Riyadh and Dhahran in December.

But ultimately, it is leaders like all of you who will build the businesses and the networks, and conduct the trade our economies need to grow.

And the Department of Commerce stands ready to help you in any way we can.

I look forward to continuing to work with all of you going forward.

Let me end my remarks here.

And let me now recognize our two outstanding hosts with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Certificate of Appreciation.

The U.S.-Saudi Business Council and the Committee for International Trade are the key organizers of today’s event in Chicago.

Most important, these two groups have worked tirelessly to promote bilateral trade and people-to-people exchanges between Saudi Arabia and the United States.

Let me first ask Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Quraishi and Peter Robertson, co-chairmen of the U.S.-Saudi Business Council to please come to the podium to accept the award on behalf of their membership.

I would like to invite Mr. Abdulaziz Al-Fahad Chairman of the Committee for International Trade, to accept the award on behalf of the Committee for International Trade of the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce.