Tunisia Partnerships Forum: A New Day for Tunisia

Posted by Kris Balderston
November 16, 2011
Special Rep Balderston Delivers Remarks to Tunisia Forum

November 15 was Tunisia's Day at the U.S. Department of State. In support of the people who launched the first revolution for dignity, opportunity, and democracy in the Middle East North Africa region, the U.S. Government brought together over 200 participants from the United States and Tunisia for the Tunisia Partnerships Forum. Together, we launched a new era of U.S. investment in Tunisia, based on local priorities and mutually benficial partnerships.

We connected Tunisian companies like Tunivest and Mazars with major U.S. companies like IBM and Intel, as well as new organizations like North American Tunisian Engineers Group. We listened to special pitch sessions from Beth Soloman of the International Franchise Association, and Jerry Sorkin of TunisUSA, and James Eberhard of Mobile Accord. At an afternoon breakout session hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, we introduced Tourism Economics to new partners as they finalize their plans to open a new office in Tunis.

We were inspired to hear from President Obama's Special Assistant and National Security Council Senior Director Gayle Smith, Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides, CEO of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation Elizabeth Littlefield, the Ambassador from Tunisia to the United States Mohamed Salah Tekaya, and Director General of Tunisia's Foreign Investment Promotion Agency Noureddine Zekri, among others. As Deputy Secretary Nides stated, "Along with my colleagues across the various parts of the U.S. Government, I want to thank you for being here today as we send a clear and loud message: America will do all we can to ensure that the free and open democracy that has begun to take root in Tunisia will be sustained by new investments in order to create a free and open economy. This a new day for Tunisia, and the opportunities for investment in the U.S.-Tunisian relationship have never been greater."

What the Deputy Secretary was talking about was that after making history last January by ending 23 years of dictatorship, Tunisia made history yet again on October 23 when over 90 percent of registered voters went to the polls to freely choose a Constitutional Assembly that will re-write their country's constitution. In a statement released the same day as Tunisia's elections, President Barack Obama pleadged that the United States is committed to helping Tunisia move "toward a democratic future that offers dignity, justice, freedom of expression, and greater economic opportunity for all."

And so here we were, just three weeks later, hosting the first ever Partnerships Forum, a unique event exclusively for Tunisia. We took an innovative approach to the design of the conference, using what I call "an active convening" to bring together private sector leaders, diaspora investors, top officials from both of our governments, and world-class experts on each of the sectors that Tunisians themselves have selected as ripe for investment. And, as we made clear at the outset, this forum is all about creating revenue-generating deals. This is only the start of our conversations with our partners about how to put all the right pieces in place to foster job creation and economic opportunity.

We believe the history that Tunisians are writing certainly did not end on October 23. The private business and public-private partnerships we will develop together can be profitable and create jobs in both of our countries, based on our mutual interest in deepening trade and investments between Americans and Tunisians.

This is especially important in the context of how much we have in common. Where some have seen these historic moments as crisis and chaos, we see people who have stood on the right side of history, representing values that we share. Tunisia was one of the first countries to recognize the United States' independence, and we were proud to be the first country to congratulate Tunisia for their revolution.

We were inspired by the Ambassador from Tunisia to the United States, who said, "Today is a powerful testimony about America's support of the people of Tunisia. It is truly a historic event." Along with others across the U.S. Government, I look forward to finding ways for the Secretary's Global Partnership Initiative to continue this important work so that U.S. support will be lasting and our partnerships benefit both of our countries.

It is truly Tunisia's day, a new day, with the chance for new sources of foreign direct investment, new incentives for entrepreneurship and job creation, and new opportunities for high-growth businesses. This conversation is just the beginning and I look forward to keeping you apprised of our progress. For starters, I am excited to be traveling to Tunisia in the next few months to continue the conversation, so that Tunisia can now unleash the potential of all of its citizens.

Editor's Note: This is a companion posting to Acting Assistant Secretary of State Mike Hammer's entry Tunisia Partnerships Forum: Delivering on the Arab Spring.



November 17, 2011

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