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Secretary Antony J. Blinken at the U.S.-Africa Business Forum Lunch
December 16, 2022


SECRETARY BLINKEN:   Good afternoon, everyone.  It is wonderful to see this room so full, so full of friends, colleagues.  As I came in from the back, I note that this area is often filled with automobiles because this is where the car show takes place.  But today, we have an incredibly vibrant community with us.

To the heads of state that are joining us today, thank you for being with us for the summit.  We’re so grateful to have this time with you in person, face to face.

To my friend Scott Nathan, thank you not only for the incredibly generous words but especially for your leadership every single day of what is an incredibly important tool that we have in the U.S. Government, and that is the Development Finance Corporation, one that is now firing on all cylinders under Scott’s leadership.

And a big thanks to my friend, to my partner, to my colleague, Secretary Gina Raimondo, to her entire team at the Department of Commerce, for the work that’s being done every single day to build stronger ties between our countries; the folks at Prosper Africa, the Corporate Council on Africa, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for organizing today’s event.  I think I saw Myron in the audience there somewhere; great to be with you today.  Thank you for everything that you’re doing.

To all the CEOs, to the business leaders who are here today, thank you for the work that you’re doing to strengthen the trade and investment ties between the African countries and the United States, for making it easier for our people to exchange their ideas, to exchange their goods, to exchange their services.

You all know this:  The ties that we already have are robust.  Last year, two-way trade in goods and services between African nations and the United States totaled more than $80 billion, supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs in our countries.

Our trade and investment ties have also helped to make progress on our shared priorities, on global challenges, from food insecurity to global health.

A couple of examples, well-known to many of you.  The work being done in Northern Nigeria by a small U.S. company by the name of John Deere, which produces a little bit of farming equipment.

But besides the equipment, for the past few years, John Deere has provided agricultural training and youth education to smallhold farmers so that they’re able to apply new, more effective farming techniques.  And we’re seeing the fruit of that kind of partnership; in some areas, farm yields have gone up by 20 percent.

Pfizer, another great U.S. company, which alongside German biotech company BioNTech agreed to manufacture its COVID-19 vaccine through The Biovac Institute, a South African biopharmaceutical company.  Biovac will soon have the capacity to produce more than 100 million COVID-19 vaccines annually in its facility in Cape Town.

And this gets at something that’s vitally important for us, which is to make sure that part of what we’re doing is investing in local capacity, sustainable production capacity, so that African companies and African countries can produce what’s needed for themselves as well as for the world.

But we all know – you all know – that there is so much more that we can and we should do.

As business leaders, we appreciate the difficulty of the challenges you face.  In so many ways this is one of the great inflection points of our time.  And whether it’s the incredible volatility that you’re all experiencing, the changing costs of commodities, supply chain issues caused by COVID, integrating new technologies that are evolving at an ever-faster pace, we know that this complicates life in profound ways.

And of course there are challenges that are, to some extent, unique to the region: differing tax structures across African nations, the balance required to create goods and services that are customized to each country’s consumers and their demands, changes required to engage a young workforce.

But there’s tremendous opportunity in those challenges, as well.  Take the younger workforce, for example, demanding more, higher-quality jobs, constantly looking for ways to upskill.  If we provide them with the chance to do that, we have a chance to build one of the most talented workforces, one of the most dedicated consumer bases, in the world.

We’re also trying to listen – listen to our partners, listen to their needs.  Ultimately, what we’re doing has to be driven by that, not by something invented half a world away.

For example, we’ve been listening, and we’ve been hearing loud and clear ideas for better utilizing AGOA.  And we look forward to working with you to ensure that we maximize its full potential going forward.

But the big picture is this: together, as the world’s largest economy and one of the world’s fastest-growing economic regions, respectively, the United States and African nations have the potential to build one of the 21st century’s most successful economic partnerships.

If we manage to increase our share of imports and exports by just 1 percent, we would generate an additional $34 billion in revenue for Africa, $25 billion in revenue for the United States – and create more than 250,000 good-paying jobs as a result.

Earlier this year I was in South Africa.  I had an opportunity to set out the administration’s new strategy for Sub-Saharan Africa.  And at its heart, it’s a strategy that’s focused on one word, and that’s “partnership.”  Our approach is rooted in the recognition that to meaningfully address our shared challenges, we need the leadership, we need the innovation of African nations and institutions working side by side, as equal partners, with American institutions, with our government, with our private sector.  And we’re committed to this collaborative approach in our work with African businesses, too.

Let me just very quickly – so that I can allow you to get on with enjoying your lunch – suggest a few ways that we’re working to deepen our partnership in six key areas.

First, the State Department and our colleagues, the Commerce Department, other agencies – we’re going to be organizing more commercial diplomacy trips, where leaders from across the U.S. Government and our private sector can work together to better identify African partners and source business opportunities together.

Second, we will step up our economic diplomacy efforts.  We’re working with the Business Council for International Understanding to enhance the abilities of our embassies to identify suitable local partners and to assess investment conditions on the ground.

For us, having this diplomatic presence around the world and in virtually every part of Africa is also a critical and unique asset for finding ways to strengthen the trade and investment relationships between our countries, to actually help identify opportunities for American business and, as a result, opportunities for Africa.

Third, we’ll expand our work in all parts of the investment pipeline – from fostering investment opportunities, to promoting viable deals, to helping to close those deals.

One example:  We’ll be investing more in rising African innovators.  As Vice President Harris announced yesterday, we’re relaunching the African Women Entrepreneurship Program, which will distribute grants to help African women entrepreneurs grow their businesses.  We know from experience that this can be a very powerful source of growth, a very powerful source of opportunity.

We’re also funding a new Investment Advisor to the Secretariat of the African Continental Free Trade Area, whose primary responsibility is to connect American companies with business opportunities in African nations.

Fourth, we’ll continue our work with African partners to bolster the building blocks of a strong business environment.  We hear, we know from our own companies, what they’re most looking for, what they most need to move forward with investment: clear and consistent tax regimes, protecting intellectual property rights, efficient customs processes.  We know that predictability, transparency – these are the things that make it easier to attract capital.  That’s good for African companies; it’s good for African workers.

Fifth, as investors look for ways to manage risk while moving into new markets and new industries, we will help them draw on the best practices of U.S. investors and firms that have already done so successfully – including many of you who are here in this room today.

Finally, we will help channel more U.S. private sector investment to the vast growth industries across African nations, including in clean energy, in health care, in the digital sectors.

We’re doing that through programs like Power Africa, which has already connected more than 165 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa with cleaner, more reliable electricity.

We’re doing it through new initiatives as well, including the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, where we’re teaming up with our partners in the G7 as well as with African host governments to drive investment in areas that will lead the 21st century economy: from the digital economy, to health and energy security, to transportation infrastructure.

I’m proud to launch another new initiative today: the Technical Assistance for Bankable Infrastructure program to boost private sector investment in Africa’s growth sectors.

This program will make it easier for the U.S. private sector to provide technical assistance to partner African governments so that African officials can better identify commercially viable infrastructure projects.  It will create a process for both parties to pursue these projects together.

So there’s no shortage of ideas, there’s no shortage of initiatives, there’s no shortage of enthusiasm for the ways that we can work together to deepen trade and investment.  And we’re making these investments with an eye, yes, to the present, but also to the future – not just the next fiscal year, not even the next few years, but with the next decade and longer in mind as well.

At the heart of these programs, these initiatives that I’ve touched on today, there is one very simple and fundamental goal: working more closely together so we can deliver for our people on the issues that actually matter most to them in their daily lives.  And ultimately, that’s profoundly important for governments as well because the fundamental challenge that we all face is that – can we effectively deliver on the needs, on the aspirations of our people?

Clearly, the connections that we’re making, the work that we’re doing, the leadership that you’re showing in connecting the United States and African nations through business, through trade, through commerce, through investment – it’s one of the most significant ways that we can actually do that.

Creating good-paying jobs, reducing inequity in our societies, dealing with the climate crisis, strengthening our health security.  In these and so many ways, the private sector is driving the future, driving opportunity, driving the need of governments to address the challenges that our people face.

So we’re taking an intentional approach to commercial diplomacy, and we’re doing that in the spirit of partnership.  I’m convinced that will lead to the benefit of the African people, to the benefit of the American people, and ultimately to the benefit of people around the world.

Thank you so much for the engagement that you’re showing, the work that you’re doing every single day.  It’s wonderful to be able to meet this week in Washington.  I think it’s a way of further energizing all of these efforts, but ultimately it’s what’s happening every day beyond here that’s going to make a difference.  And I hope that each of you leaves the summit when it’s over further energized to build these partnerships, to build these relationships, to build this future together.

Thank you so much.  (Applause.)