2:00 PM EDT
AMBASSADOR CARSON: Good afternoon. I would like to thank all of you for joining us today as we discuss plans for the United States Sub-Saharan Africa Trade and Economic Cooperation Forum, popularly known as the AGOA Forum.
It is my pleasure to announce that the Government of Kenya will host the eighth AGOA Forum from August 4th to August 6th in Nairobi, Kenya. This year’s AGOA Forum will be centered on the theme of realizing the full potential of AGOA through expansion of trade and investment. The Trade and Development Act of 2000, which created AGOA, mandated the Annual Trade and Economic Cooperation Forum with eligible Sub-Saharan nations to discuss expanding trade and investment relations between the United States and Sub-Saharan Africa.
The AGOA Forum is the only annual U.S. ministerial with Sub-Saharan Africa. As such, it is an opportunity for the United States and African nations to have a dialogue on all the issues that contribute to long-term development and growth, including good governance and sound economic policies. In this time of economic crisis, it is important that the United States and Africa work cooperatively, as a major trading partner, to protect economic growth, advances made, and to lessen the negative impact of market fluctuations.
In planning for this year’s AGOA Forum, we have briefed our congressional colleagues on the planning, and asked for their views on the critical issues that will be discussed. We have also been working very closely with members of civil society and the private sector to ensure that we have captured the concern of all of those who have a commitment to Africa, and to expanding African trade and economic opportunities.
This year’s event will begin with private sector and civil society-hosted events on August the 4th. The African Consultative Group will also meet on August the 4th. The ministerial will begin on the morning of August the 5th and will conclude on the afternoon of August 6th.
The Government of Kenya has done a superb job in organizing the forum. We appreciate also the input that each of the African governments has provided to the Kenyan Embassy here, and to the Kenyan organizers in Nairobi. We appreciate greatly the effort of Ambassador Ogego, who is here with us this afternoon, and with his government colleagues in Nairobi.
Sessions at the Africa – at this year’s AGOA Forum will include topics on a wide range of issues, including the impact of the global economic downturn and strategies for the next wave of growth; progress on AGOA Forum implementation; challenges to business development in Africa; good governance, and how it relates to business and economic development; and regional trade integration. We hope that this forum will be another successful forum, as the previous seven have been.
I’d like now to turn over to Ambassador Ogego, the Kenyan Ambassador to the United States, and the country representative of this year’s AGOA Forum.
AMBASSADOR OGEGO: Thank you. And thank you, my colleagues. I am delighted to inform you that Kenya is ready and very happy to host the 8th AGOA Forum in Nairobi, as the Ambassador has said. The dates will be from 3rd to the 6th. The National Organizing Committee of Kenya has done a tremendous job of putting in place necessary logistical arrangements and security arrangements to make this event a memorable one, and also a successful one.
I had a chance two months ago to personally meet with the committee to assess for myself, and to get updated firsthand on the levels of operations. And I was convinced that (inaudible) and have since known that we are ready for the conference.
In more particular terms, we expect that when countries are free to bring as many delegates as they can, we will allow eight official participants from each AGOA-eligible country. We will provide transports of the delegates from the airport and back to the airport on the day of return and, in between, from the hotels to the conference venue. And each head of delegation will be accorded a specific vehicle, with a protocol vehicle and a security officer. And we have put the list of hotels around the venue. We have seven to ten five-star hotels that will be available for those participants. And we have posted those on the AGOA website, and the rates are favorable.
We will, as I have said, assign a protocol officer to each delegation to ensure a smooth inflow from the airports and around town and during the conference. We had earlier agreed on the AGOA logo, which was unveiled much earlier, between the minister for trade of Kenya, the U.S. Ambassador in Nairobi, and a list has been circulated at various AGOA-eligible countries and participants who will be taking place during the conference.
We will have registration on site, although we have allowed, encouraged, people to register online. But we will have booths and desks for those who arrive late, who never had a chance to register online, to register themselves during the conference.
As I have alluded to, we will provide adequate security, and just remind you that Nairobi is used to hosting international conference, and we will do our best to make sure that this one is higher than any other one we have had before.
We have posted on our website, the AGOA website, the frequently asked questions on the types of weather, the type of weather of the day, what else to see during your free time. And feel free to visit the website and get some of your anxieties and questions and concerns answered in those – in that website.
The program – the Ambassador has alluded to the main plans of the program, and I think it’s an exciting program. And the program, I must add, was arrived at between the African group of ambassadors accredited to Washington and the U.S. – various U.S. Government agencies, including USTR and the State Department. So it’s a consensus program we have all agreed to.
Again, I look forward to, on behalf of my government, receiving everybody from the U.S., and we are delighted to host you in Nairobi. I would encourage you to take a few days after the conference and sample some of our beautiful spots, nature, hotels, and just enjoy the Kenyan people. Thank you.
MS. LISER: Good afternoon. I am Florie Liser, from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, and I am pleased to join Ambassador Ogego, Assistant Secretary Carson, and other colleagues from the Administration who are here today to help announce the eighth AGOA Forum, which will be held in Kenya, as was said, on August 4th through 6th.
The forum is an important platform for a high-level dialogue on how to increase U.S.-African trade and investment flows, how to help African beneficiary countries make the most of the opportunities under AGOA, and how to improve AGOA implementation in very practical ways.
The opportunity for dialogue that is afforded us by the AGOA Forum is more important than ever, as Africa joins the rest of the world in grappling with an economic crisis that touches us all. Global trade is down. U.S.-African trade is also suffering. Total AGOA imports during the first five months of this year, 2009, were about $10.8 billion. But that is down 61 percent, compared to the first five months of 2008.
So, this year’s theme, “Realizing the Full Potential of AGOA Through Expansion of Trade and Investment,” takes on a special urgency. During the plenary and workshop sessions, impromptu hallway conversations, and all the opportunities that the forum will offer, American and African delegates will focus on policies and the regulatory and infrastructure issues that must be addressed to attract private capital that specifically supports trade, and allows small businesses, particularly those that produce AGOA products, to flourish. This emphasis, along with the plenary and workshops related to improving the investment environment goes to the heart of issues that are key to success under AGOA.
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, my boss, is looking forward to the opportunity to meet with his trade counterparts, as well as other ministers, to discuss the challenges of AGOA implementation and find solutions. Ambassador Kirk will co-chair a plenary session on the effects of global challenges on AGOA. He will also host a special meeting of trade ministers to discuss key issues that impact the U.S.-Sub-Saharan Africa trade and investment relationship, including how to improve our cooperation on those issues.
USTR will also co-chair a session that looks at promoting regional integration, we know which is very important to the Africans, and addresses the challenges to progress faced by those key regional organizations. USTR will also co-chair a workshop that focuses on exporting specialty food products under AGOA.
Let me close by saying again how much we at USTR are looking forward to this year’s AGOA Forum in Nairobi. We want to thank the Kenyan Government for organizing it on behalf of all of the AGOA-eligible countries. And I hope that many of you will be able to be there and participate. And I look forward to any questions you may have.
MR. PHILBROOK: Well, good afternoon. I am Bud Philbrook, Deputy Under Secretary at the United States Department of Agriculture. And I’m very honored to be here today. And Mr. Ambassador, we’re so pleased that you are hosting this event this year in your wonderful country. Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack and I are looking forward to attending the forum, and we will be there throughout the sessions.
The United States Department of Agriculture will play an important role in this upcoming forum, as agriculture is very important to the economic development of AGOA countries. Agriculture represents one-third of GNP for Sub-Saharan-African countries. And agriculture employs two-thirds of its workers. And Sub-Saharan-African countries play a vital role in food security issues, which are of such import today.
We work closely with AGOA countries to help improve their ability to trade with the United States and other countries, and we conduct a broad range of trade capacity-building, technical assistance, and education and research activities that are fostering a more prosperous and open region. Our capacity-building activities include assisting African countries with the export of fresh agricultural products by meeting international sanitary and vital sanitary standards and regulations.
In addition, USDA’s technical expertise, assistance, scientific training and research opportunities provide African policymakers and private sector representatives insight into topics such as agricultural trade, marketing, management, policy, food safety, and technology transfer, so that they can apply the knowledge gained to the specific situations in their countries.
And while we’re at the AGOA Forum, Secretary Vilsack will hold bilateral meetings with several of his counterparts. He will attend forum sessions, make site visits to gain a better understanding of the agricultural situation in Kenya, and speak at the ministerial luncheon. I am privileged to accompany the Secretary to some of these events, and will also hold bilateral meetings and speak at the private sector luncheon, and co-chair a workshop on adding value to agriculture. Under Secretary for Research Education and Economics Raj Shah will also be attending the forum, and will play a very important role on behalf of USDA.
Again, Mr. Ambassador, thank you kindly. And I will be willing to answer any questions you might have.
MS. VINEYARD: Thank you. My name is Holly Vineyard, and I am the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. And it gives me great pleasure to be going to this next AGOA Forum, which will be the first one that’s held in east Africa.
The theme of this year’s forum, as Florie noted, is “Realizing the Full Potential of AGOA through Expansion of Trade and Investment,” and that’s an important reminder of the intent of AGOA and of the forum, namely to foster close economic ties between the United States and Sub-Saharan Africa.
So, to strengthen the framework for economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Department of Commerce is co-hosting/co-chairing a workshop with Mozambique on “Intellectual Property Rights: New Tools for African Competitiveness.” This workshop will highlight the role intellectual property rights, protection, and enforcement can play in promoting African economic competitiveness, export growth, and innovation.
I plan to co-chair the health workshop at the forum, which will focus on opportunities for sustainable financing, for strengthening health systems in Africa. Malawi will co-chair this session with me. The role of the private sector in spurring economic growth is critical, and I look forward to a candid discussion on the role of the private sector as a partner in strengthening health systems and expanding HIV/AIDS services on the continent.
As in past years, the Department of Commerce is pleased to be serving as the U.S. government’s liaison with the private sector, as we move forward with preparation for this year’s forum. The focus of the private sector forum is improving the business-enabling environment, whether in the agricultural supply chain, or financial mechanisms in energy. I am pleased to see that the private sector forum is addressing agribusiness and clean energy, because these are two very important areas for Africa’s future.
The ambassador from Kenya, Ambassador Ogego, mentioned the excellent website that his government has put up, and I would like to note that our website at the Commerce Department, agoa.gov, also links to the Kenyan Government’s website, so you can see their plans. Again, that website is agoa.gov. And I would like to thank the ambassador and his government for all of the efforts and for making us feel so welcome in going to Kenya.
I am happy to join my colleagues in answering any questions that you may have.
MODERATOR: And let me remind you that a microphone will come, so we can get this on the transcript, and to identify yourself and your media organization. Ben.
QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Ben Bangoura, international broadcaster here in Washington.
Ambassador Carson, despite hundreds of billions of dollars in aid, most country experts say in Africa, poorer today than they were decades ago. What does your Administration do completely to fix this?
AMBASSADOR CARSON: The United States Government is quite proud of the assistance that it has provided to African governments throughout most of their post-independence era. Last year, the United States Government provided something in the neighborhood of $7.5 billion in foreign assistance to the 48 states that are south of the Sahara. Much of this aid money was used to address very critical social, economic, and development needs.
The United States was a leader in providing assistance to prevent and fight HIV and AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. It was also a major contributor through the Millennium Challenge Corporation to the development of a number of countries. MCC has been a significant contributor to the development efforts of a number of states around Africa. USAID is a major provider of development assistance in the areas of education, agriculture, health, child survival. And through other U.S. Government agencies, including OPIC, the Export-Import Bank, through the efforts and offices of the Department of Commerce and others, we have played a role of partnership in partnership with numerous African countries to assist in their development.
I would challenge the assumption that Africa is worse off today than it was 10 or 20 or 30 years ago. The level of global engagement, the level of education, the level of professional standards that exist, the growth of the continent, is a reflection of the progress. Some would argue that it may not be as fast as we all want, both Africans and Americans. But there has, in fact, been a substantial degree of progress, and it is reflected in many indicators that one would look at.
QUESTION: A quick follow-up, Ambassador: Can you confirm the reports that the Administration here in Washington is considering denying visa to corrupt officials, their members and relatives in different countries in Africa to come to the United States?
AMBASSADOR. CARSON: The – I’m not familiar with precisely what you’re talking about, but the U.S. Government does, in fact, impose visa restrictions on individuals who violate U.S. immigration law and U.S. federal statutes, some of which are written into the Foreign Assistance Act.
MODERATOR: We’re going to go up to the Foreign Press Center in New York, and we have a question from there.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We have an e-mail question from Wen Chen, of the Beijing Review, for the panel: What do you think African people want most at the present: investment, food, or democracy, and why? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR CARSON: The short answer is that they want them all, and they’d like to enjoy them simultaneously. And we would encourage that.
AMBASSADOR OGEGO: Well – you want me to?
AMBASSADOR CARSON: Please.
AMBASSADOR OGEGO: Well, as an African, we want all, and we are working on all of them. Most African countries are more democratic today than they were 10 years ago, and we are making progress. A country like Kenya is now undergoing freedom explosion. We are tumbling over each other, enjoying the fruits of our hard-won freedoms.
And we are working on food security, and we are experiencing a serious drought situation, a new phenomenon, tied up with environmental devastation and overall global climate change. We are addressing those concerns, and we, of course, want investment. We want trade more than aid. Thank you.
MODERATOR: A question back here, in the back.
QUESTION: Chuck Corey, Washington File to Africa. I have a question for Ambassador Carson and the Kenyan ambassador.
What has AGOA meant to Africa and the United States, from both of your perspectives?
AMBASSADOR CARSON: From the U.S. perspective, it has expanded the opportunity for direct trade by opening the U.S. market to a large number of African imports on a duty-free basis. It has provided a forum for high-level discussions between cabinet officials from the United States, particularly from the State Department, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Trade Representative to meet on a regular recurring basis with their counterparts in Africa.
It has provided an opportunity for government officials, both American and African, to meet with their colleagues in the business sector, and to meet with interested non-governmental organizations that are concerned about trade and investment issues. It has given us an opportunity to have discussions on critical issues related to investment and trade. And I think it has been a wonderful vehicle to make the kinds of connections that are essential to promote trade and investment.
AMBASSADOR OGEGO: I would add on top of those ones that it has created an access of our products to the U.S. market. And I could be very specific here. We export to the U.S. market baby carrots and baby corn, for instance, which is a direct benefit to our farmers. It also helps us to create jobs, particularly in the EPZ, the export processing zone, particularly in the apparel industry. And so we send apparel to the U.S. market. We have some very big deals and we are excited about that.
It also creates jobs. it creates levels of income, and on top of what the assistant secretary has said, of creating a platform of interaction between African countries that are eligible for AGOA and the U.S. Government. And, in fact, this is our intention and inclination to upgrade the forum to a higher level, and an annual event of interaction. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR CARSON: Let me – to your question, let me just add that between 2001 and 2008, agricultural imports from AGOA countries has increased by 63 percent, and we think that is very significant.
MS. LISER: And if I could just add one last piece to this, it has also been an opportunity for small businesses on the African side to develop joint ventures with U.S. businesses, particularly small businesses on this side. And to be able to see the Africans add value to their products, this has been also a very important part of AGOA.
In fact, the products that were added that make up AGOA on top of GSP are largely value-added, non-traditional products that we don’t give duty-free access to in the U.S. markets for many other countries. And we were particularly hoping to spur growth of those kinds of industries and products being developed in Africa, competitively.
MODERATOR: Thank you. And, again, going up to our Foreign Press Center in New York, a question?
QUESTION: Yes, thank you. My name is Olaolu Akande, a foreign correspondent for Nigerian newspapers. I do have a couple of questions.
For Ms. Florie Liser, I would like to know what specifically the United States Government wants the Nigerian Government to do in order to increase U.S.-Nigerian trade beyond – or, you know, are there specific, you know, actions that the United States Government would prefer Nigerian Government to take?
And then I would like to ask Ambassador Johnny Carson to kindly respond to the claim of the Nigerian foreign minister last week, that during a meeting in Italy, the Nigerian foreign minister met President Barack Obama, and President Obama did assure the Nigerian foreign minister that he would be visiting Nigeria soon. I would like Ambassador Carson to give us a reaction to that.
And I am hoping perhaps there is a place where we can get a list of confirmed African Government officials and U.S. Government officials that will be attending the forum in Kenya. Is there a place where we can go to get a confirmed list of U.S. Government officials attending, and the African Government officials attending? Thank you.
MS. LISER: Your first question is an excellent one. We have always been focused on the non-oil part of AGOA. We recognize that oil is still a large part of what is exported to the U.S. under AGOA. But in the case of Nigeria specifically, there are several things that need to be done.
First of all, there needs to be more investment in the infrastructure that supports trade: the roads, bringing down the cost of transport. Lower energy cost is critical. I have not been to one factory throughout sub-Saharan Africa that produces products that did not need a back-up generator.
We also need to focus on the regulatory environment in Nigeria – this is really important – and making sure that barriers to investment, especially the investment that spurs small businesses. This is really critical.
The last thing we would say is that there needs to be a more integrated approach in Nigeria, not just the minister of commerce, but the person who promotes investment, the finance minister and others, sitting down to try to determine a coherent and coordinated plan for key sectors in which Nigeria is competitive. It would be great if there were a wide range of those. But we think that, to start with, that you should focus on that.
Let me end by saying that, actually, Nigeria’s non-oil exports to the U.S. have also been increasing. So we are, in fact, encouraged by that. But the potential is huge. So we hope that some of these steps that I have put forward will be carried out so that we can see that potential become reality.
AMBASSADOR CARSON: On the second question, I am not personally aware of any conversation between the President of the United States and the Nigerian foreign minister. That conversation could have taken place, but I am not aware of it, nor what might have been discussed.
I am also not aware of any planning for a forthcoming visit by the President to Nigeria. I think that both the President and the Secretary of State have indicated that they regard Africa as a major priority for this Administration, and that they look forward to visits to the continent, as a part of their normal duties and responsibilities.
MODERATOR: And who might speak towards his question about the list of officials who might be attending? Is it on the website and seek it there?
AMBASSADOR OGEGO: Well, we will avail it when we have completely tabulated all the names. So far, from my desk, I have received a lot of confirmations from my colleagues who have decided to send the names through us. But some names will be sent directly to Nairobi, so it will not be practical to get to know right now the total number of participation. But I look forward to forwarding this, if it is important and necessary, in due course. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Any other questions here? Ben, you have another?
QUESTION: Yes. Okay. Thank you. Ambassador Ogego?
AMBASSADOR OGEGO: Yes.
QUESTION: Yes. From African perspective, what has been the most challenging issue pertaining to AGOA? My understanding is that the continent is not taking the full advantage of that. What do you think?
AMBASSADOR OGEGO: Well, you just mentioned it. That’s one. I mean, the offer is there --
AMBASSADOR OGEGO: The offer is there, but Africa has not had, overall, the capacity to take advantage of the U.S. market. And there are over 6,000 products that could be brought into the U.S. market. And there is always the problem of capacity and related capacity is the issue – the supply chain, you know? You could have an order to supply so much (inaudible) apparel, and you don’t have the cotton itself to be able to make the apparel, you don’t have the capacity.
But there are products that have found their way into the U.S. market. I just mentioned about the baby carrots and the baby corn from our end. And many other products from various other African countries. So that is one challenge.
The other challenge – and I should have mentioned this – in terms of what we get out of this, the issue – and I think Florie mentioned – the issue of standardization. AGOA has African countries to produce competitive products, you know, products that meet international standards.
There is a challenge there, but there is also an opportunity in value addition. It isn’t just produce the bulk tea, or bulk coffee, or bulk potatoes. But, you know, you produce them and add value to them, that you could supply them into the U.S. market. Thank you.
MODERATOR: We will take one final question from New York. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes, it’s just a follow-up. I didn’t quite get the response of the ambassador from Kenya regarding the list of government officials from both African countries and the United States. You were saying something like (inaudible) or not. We would like to know who is going from the U.S. Government, you know. How many secretaries, how many cabinet secretaries, how many assistant secretaries, you know? And if this is available, you can let us know.
And also, we’d like to know, on the part of Africa, who are the ministers that are coming, which are the countries participating?
I would just like to say that this is important information, and if you can help to facilitate its release, we will appreciate it.
AMBASSADOR OGEGO: Well, absolutely. I do not, under any (inaudible), want to give the impression that that information is not important. What I am referring to is that it’s not practical at this stage to get to know who is coming.
Overall, the – I think, as a matter of fact, all the trade ministers of all the AGOA-eligible countries should attend the forum. So, from the first level, all trade ministers should be coming. And I have received confirmation of various trade ministers coming, but at this point in time we have not completely completed these, because some names are sent to Nairobi directly, while others through my colleagues in Washington are sent to me.
So, I am not privy to all the names of whoever would have confirmed. And if you give us a little time, we shall come back to you and avail the list to you. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR CARSON: Let me just say one comment about the nature of the American delegation. The U.S. delegation to the AGOA Forum will be a senior-level delegation. The Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, will lead the U.S. delegation. She will be joined, as has been mentioned already, by Governor Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture. The U.S. Trade Representative, Ambassador Ron Kirk, will be present. Each of the individuals on this panel will also be present there. And we anticipate that there will be other senior U.S. Government officials who will be a part of this delegation.
But we have, as of now, three cabinet-level U.S. Government officials going out, and a number of officials who are at the under secretary level. The delegation continues to take shape. But the Administration regards this as an important event. We believe that it is essential that the U.S. Government be represented at the highest levels. The commitment that we have already on the table is an indication of this. The presence of these three officials alone is quite significant.
MODERATOR: Very good. Well, thank you all very much for your time. We’ve reached the hour. And thank you for coming to the Foreign Press Center. We very much appreciate it.
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