News Column

Remarks at the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Ministerial

August 5, 2014



John Kerry

Secretary of State World Bank

Washington, DC

Well, President Kim, Jim, thank you very, very much for your welcome. Welcome to all of you here, and I appreciate your -- the substance of your comments. And I also appreciate your generous comments regarding my privilege of being here as Secretary. (Laughter.)

This is a very exciting week for us here in Washington, and we are really thrilled to welcome everybody here on this particular discussion and many others that are going to take place. And I need to beg your indulgence at the beginning of my comments. I have to speak and run, so to speak, because I have a series -- we have so many presidents in the city over the next few days, that I am beginning a marathon of bilat meetings this morning, as well as trying to fit in the number of events that we have. I know you will understand that.

I thank Jim Kim for his tremendous leadership of the bank and for hosting us here today. I want you all to know that one of the things I admire most about Dr. Kim is that wherever he has been in his life, whatever leadership role he has served in, this is a man who's been willing to challenge the status quo. And that was true when he found innovative ways to deliver healthcare in the Partners in Health. It was true when he applied himself to finding new ways to provide care for HIV and AIDS at the World Health Organization, and when I was in the Senate I did some work with him on that. And then it was true when he balanced the budget and led Dartmouth College through its critical period of transition. So we welcome his leadership here.

What I think many of you may not know is that when he was in high school, he was a quarterback. And those of you who know American football have to just imagine what it was like for this young guy about 10 years after he arrived in America. He was facing down big, Midwestern linebackers -- (laughter) -- and there's no better preparation for today's world and life than that.

A few decades later, he was working -- revolutionizing, really, how HIV and AIDS was going to be dealt with. And I was in the Senate, and we were working then to try to find a way to create stronger trade links with Africa, particularly with sub-Sahara Africa.

And for several years, with the help of somebody you all know well, I think -- Jim McDermott, a former Foreign Service officer and member of Congress at the time -- we discussed creative ideas about how to break down the barriers to trade while at the same time lifting up the standards for governance and for transparency. And the result of those early efforts was, in fact, the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act that President Clinton signed into law in the last months of his presidency.

So for 14 years now -- as Michael Froman said, this is the 13th meeting annually -- but for 14 years, AGOA has been one of the primary tools to push forward greater trade and investment in Africa. And guess what? It is working. We've seen imports from AGOA nations grow by 300 percent. Whether it's cocoa and cashews from Ghana or textiles from Mauritius or petrochemical products from Angola, AGOA has served as a catalyst for greater trade and prosperity, and it's helped to promote greater protections for the African workforce.

And yes, we do have some of our own interests on the line here too, and I say it upfront. For instance, AGOA has made it possible for Ford Motor Company to export engines duty-free from South Africa, where Ford has invested over $300 million so they can supply engines worldwide. And the efficiencies of that operation have allowed Ford to create 800 new jobs at their Kansas City plant as part of the global production line. This is how it works, and this is what Africa's witnessing now with I think something like 10 of the 15 fastest-growing countries in the world in Africa.

From day one in the White House, President Obama's number-one priority has been creating strong middle class jobs here at home, but the President has always understood that the best way to do that is to strengthen our international economic ties and foster broad growth globally. Everybody here understands how interconnected we all are. Our populations are increasingly, all of them, walking around -- in some countries more than others -- with mobile devices. Everybody is connected to everybody every moment of the day, and that is changing the way people think. It's changing their sense of possibilities. It's changing aspirations and it's changing realities of politics on the ground.

As President Obama has said, "Africa is a new center of global growth." Since 2000, banking assets have more than doubled. The telecommunications market has doubled since 2004 alone. And we know that Africa will have a larger workforce than India or China by 2040. So it's time simply to get ahead of the curve, to invest in education above all for the vast numbers of young people, and the increasing numbers of people who because of today's interconnectedness are demanding their part of the future. That is much of what has been happening in places where we've seen tremendous upheaval of recent days, whether it's been Tunisia or Egypt or Syria, elsewhere. It's young people who motivated and energized those initiatives initially because of their sense of desire, frustration for the possibilities of the future.

So it's time to build a more open exchange of ideas and information. That's part of the reason President Obama thought of doing the summit that he's having this week here in Washington. It's to lead to greater partnership, to build our capacity for innovation, and AGOA is one of the best tools -- most vital tools for pushing forward the dramatic transformation that we're seeing today in parts of Africa.

So this is clearly a moment of opportunity for all Africans. It's also, I say to you frankly, a moment of decision. Because it's the decisions that are made or the decisions that are deferred that will ultimately determine whether Africa mines the continent's greatest natural resource of all, and that is not platinum, it's not gold, it's not oil; it's the talent and capacity and aspirations of its people.

The entire Obama Administration wants to unleash the potential, both for the benefit of the people of Africa, and to create greater prosperity for the world. President Obama is committed to that transformation, and with a seamless renewal of AGOA, the question is: Will we continue to create shared prosperity and a better future for both the people of the United States and the people of Africa and all of the others who benefit as a consequence? That is really the bottom line of what we are working to achieve today, and what we will work towards in anticipation of next year's AGOA Forum in Gabon, the first ever in Central Africa, is to achieve this goal.

So I say unabashedly: We want and we will work hard to get more American companies to invest in Africa. We also want more African companies to invest here in the United States, and there's no reason that they shouldn't. The fact is, today, Africa is increasingly a destination for American investment and tourism, and African institutions are increasingly leading efforts to solve African problems. All of this underscores that dramatic transformation is possible, and it's possible in the next few years. Prosperity can actually replace poverty, and cooperation can actually triumph over conflict.

So we know that our cooperation, all of us, is essential in order to promote economic growth that is shared by all Africans. I will say to you fighting corruption is a definitive, critical part of that process. To do so will take courage, and yes, it sometimes means assuming risks. But fighting corruption lifts more than a country's balance sheet. Transparency and accountability attract greater investment. Transparency and accountability create a more competitive marketplace, one where ideas and products are judged by the market and by their merits, and not by a backroom deal or a bribe. The market always works better with transparency, with the sunshine of accountability. That is an environment where innovators and entrepreneurs can flourish, and I guarantee you it is an environment where capital makes a decision to move according to its sense of security and its sense of risk.

So ladies and gentlemen, Africa can be the marketplace of the future. Africa has the resources. Africa has the capacity. Africa has the know-how. The questions Africa faces are similar to those confronting countries all over the world: Is there the political will, the sense of common purpose to address challenges? Are we all prepared together to make the hard choices that those challenges require?

We firmly believe -- and I think you will sense, those of you who are here for all of the next three days, at the end of this summit, the end of these meetings, I believe you will have a clear sense of the fullness of the commitment of President Obama and the Obama Administration and the United States to the notion that Africa is a natural partner of the United States and vice versa. And we believe that the United States can be a vital catalyst in Africa's continued transformation.

It's exciting, the possibilities are endless, and we really look forward to working with you to fulfill the full measure of possibilities. So now I'd like to introduce a -- reintroduce the person who opened this. He doesn't need another introduction, but he's been working on these things, the ties between the United States and Africa, for a long time within the Treasury Department, at the National Security Council, at Citibank, and he now serves as President Obama's principal advisor on international trade, Ambassador Michael Froman.

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