Secretary Clinton hosted the State Department's first-ever Global Business Conference February 21-22, 2012. The event was very rewarding for both the U.S. government and the over 200 private sector representatives who joined us from more than 120 countries. Last Wednesday's robust discussions focused on regional issues and how we can move forward together to seize opportunities, grow the global economy, and create American jobs.
Here's are just a few of the key themes discussed during the sessions hosted by our regional bureaus:
A key topic was the collaboration in the western hemisphere to address shared goals of expanding economic opportunities, increasing citizen security, and improving education. I was pleased to hear that our productive regional partnerships. such as the Pathways to Prosperity and the Energy and Climate Partnership of the America (ECPA), are having a significant impact as frameworks to share best practices. An example highlighted by the regional business leaders was the recent ambassadorial road shows and export promotion tours, which have been valuable in highlighting economic opportunities in the region for U.S. companies. Participants also noted that more progress is needed to expand the benefits of trade and economic growth to people historically excluded: women, youth and minority populations.
Middle East and North Africa
Participants from the Middle East and Africa urged the U.S. government to become more aggressive in facilitating U.S. trade and investment in the region, as Chinese and European businesses are viewed as "outflanking" the United States. My interagency colleagues shared our ongoing support to promote U.S. exports and assist American companies in the MENA countries, through trade missions, feasibility studies, and corporate matchmaking. Private sector representatives emphasized the need to better exploit existing FTAs and Qualifying Industrial zones, broaden the adoption of American standards, and increase trade through vertical integration between North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa, in addition to horizontal geographical integration across the region. We also received other concrete recommendations from business representatives, including easing visa procedures; obtaining better tax treatment for U.S. exports; engaging U.S. and foreign media to report on opportunities rather than on negatives; and helping small and medium size enterprises to find more financing and business opportunities. We invite companies to continue to submit ideas and help us expand our commercial presence in this important region.
The U.S. business associations representatives noted that they are ideally positioned to engage diaspora communities in the United States to "spread the good word" about the tremendous opportunities in this dynamic region and advocate for African economic engagement. These important outside partnerships are valuable in bringing technology, training, expertise, and equipment needed for sustainable economic growth. Many business leaders also pointed out that American companies succeed in Africa by "following the customers" and cultivating long-term investment relationships that can be sustained beyond political transitions and economic cycles. It was exciting to hear that the World Bank's "Doing Business" report found that 80 percent of African countries have made progress on reforms, a significant increase from a decade ago.
East Asia and the Pacific
Regional business leaders advice that we should look at ways for American businesses to provide goods and services like information and communication technology, health products, and educational services to support connectivity in Asia and U.S. economic growth at home was well received. As ties between the United States and Asia deepen, participants pointed out that connectivity in the region's developing countries must be viewed more broadly than just roads and bridges. Increased and sustainable energy supplies in East Asia have pointed to a vital area for future growth. Initiatives in APEC on good governance, transparency, and regulatory harmonization were seen as providing the opportunity for companies from Asia and America the opportunity to innovate, to collaborate, and to contribute to economic growth throughout the region -- and in the United States as well.
South and Central Asia
Some participants noted that South and Central Asia have challenging markets, so facilitating trade and investment may require more "heavy lifting." They pointed to the need to do more with financing and government-to-government dialogue to highlight the resources available to companies of all sizes. The group also discussed how competition from state-owned enterprises creates an unfair advantage for companies with state subsidies. Despite having superior products and technologies, U.S. firms felt they often could not compete since state-owned enterprises often do not "play fair." Secretary Clinton was quite clear during her remarks at the conference that the U.S. government will continue to fight for a level playing field. Also, U.S. officials noted that the U.S. government and businesses view the "New Silk Road" vision for regional economic integration as an important factor in promoting growth and development in the region as well as an opportunity for increased U.S. trade and investment in South and Central Asia.
Our discussions with our European colleagues encompassed trade, investment, energy, and overall economic cooperation. One interesting point was how the private sector can help to stimulate growth and innovation alongside governmental efforts to reduce trade barriers that can inhibit our competiveness. On energy, U.S. government representatives emphasized our commitment to efficiency and conservation and a clear, science-based regulatory environment, while continuing to promote a dialogue with Europe on diversified strategies for energy security. It was clear that U.S. leadership is vital in promoting appropriate international regulatory regimes for diversified energy sources (natural gas, nuclear energy) as well as creating incentives for private sector innovation and new green technologies.
A Successful Conference Concludes
We were thrilled to have this opportunity for a rich and substantive dialogue with the private sector. I wish to thank all participants and assure all participants that we will be following up on the ideas and recommendations. This conference marks the beginning of even stronger collaboration between the Department of State and the U.S. domestic and international business community.