Acting Under Secretary for International Trade Joseph Semsar Remarks - February 6, 2020

Prosper Africa Opening Ceremony Remarks

Tunis, Tunisia

Thursday, February 6, 2020

As Prepared For Delivery

Thank you Ambassador Blome for that kind introduction. And hello, meraba, beinvenue, and good morning.

I am thrilled to see such a strong turnout for this Prosper Africa Conference. But would be remiss, if I didn’t start by offering a special thank you to AmCham Tunisia and to the Government of Tunisia for your hospitality in hosting. 

I would also like to offer a sincere thank you to the Embassy staff and to the Prosper Africa Secretariat who coordinated the many details involved in organizing this summit.  

And finally, I would like to offer my deepest gratitude to Head of Government Chahed for being here this morning and for fully supporting this conference. You have a beautiful country and we are all thankful to be here in Tunisia for the first-ever Prosper Africa Business-to-Business Summit. 

As the Acting Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade, I lead the International Trade Administration, or ITA, an agency charged with creating prosperity by strengthening the international competitiveness of U.S. industry, promoting trade and investment, and ensuring fair trade and compliance with trade laws and agreements.

ITA’s global footprint consists of U.S. Commercial Service officers in more than 70 countries worldwide, working with our 100 U.S.-based Export Assistance Centers, and our headquarters staff in Washington, D.C. Last year alone, ITA assisted more than 30,000 U.S. companies access new opportunities in international markets and overcome a wide range of trade barriers. 

Given that context, I mean it when I say that the Department of Commerce views Africa as a truly dynamic, transformative market, experiencing strong economic growth.

With six of the ten fastest-growing economies in the world and over 1.3 billion consumers, Africa is poised to play a more pivotal role in the global economy. Meanwhile, businesses in Africa seek to further engage a U.S. consumer market of more than 300 million people that already have a purchasing power of $13 trillion dollars—the largest in the world.

As U.S. exports into Africa have decreased from their high a few years ago, the U.S. Department of Commerce is actively working with you to better understand how to reverse this trend. To address these challenges head on, the Trump Administration has launched a series of trade and investment initiatives between the United States and Africa. 

Early in the Trump Administration, the President signed the “Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development” Act into law or the “Build Act” as we like to call it. This established the new U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, replacing OPIC, and doubling the cap for financing opportunities from $29 billion dollars to $60 billion dollars, while strengthening the focus on new markets, like those in Africa. Recently, our Export Import Bank was reauthorized by Congress for seven years and is already gone to work to finance quite a few projects in Africa.   

Additionally, United States Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, Deputy Secretary Karen Dunn Kelley, and many other leaders from our agency have spent a great deal of time in Africa over the past three years. 

In 2017, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross had the honor of opening the U.S.-Africa Business Summit, delivering the Trump Administration’s first cabinet-level speech on U.S. trade with Africa. In 2018, Secretary Ross traveled to Africa with the President’s Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa, or PAC-DBIA, where the U.S. Government signed Memorandums of Understanding—or MOUs with three countries: Kenya, Ethiopia, and Ghana. These MOUs sought to strengthen commercial ties and eliminate barriers to trade and investment.  

Since then, Commerce has signed two more MOUs, with Côte d’Ivoire and Mozambique. 

This past summer, Deputy Secretary of Commerce Karen Dunn Kelley led a U.S. Government delegation to Maputo, Mozambique to participate in the Corporate Council on Africa’s U.S.-Africa Business Summit and to announce the 2019 to 2021 term of the PAC-DBIA.

While in Mozambique, Deputy Secretary Kelley unveiled the Trump Administration initiative we are all here today in support of – Prosper Africa. Prosper Africa seeks to increase two-way trade and investment between the United States and Africa in three ways. 

First, the United States Government will synchronize the capabilities and initiatives of 16 U.S. Government agencies. Because you should not have to learn how to navigate Washington in order to do business with the United States. 

Second, Prosper Africa will help facilitate transactions on the continent by helping U.S. companies better identify commercial opportunities in Africa. A large part of that work will be done by ITA’s US Export Assistance Centers in 100 locations in the U.S. working with US industry to identify and pursue African opportunities. The expansion of USAID’s trade and investment hubs cross the African continent will also play a central role. 

And third, we will build African capacity to encourage private sector led economic growth. And we will work to remove trade barriers that inhibit U.S. companies from taking advantage of business opportunities in African markets, and often impede the growth of African companies as well.

For years, companies have asked the U.S. Government to make it easier to access its trade and investment support services. With Prosper Africa, we answer that call by providing a one-stop shop that makes the full range of those services available to U.S. and African businesses and investors. And by bringing together these U.S. government resources, U.S. and African businesses will be connected with new buyers, suppliers, and investment opportunities to the benefit of both the United States and countries across the African continent.

A stronger connection between U.S. and African private sectors will also expand markets for goods and services on both continents—advancing mutual prosperity and security, fueling economic growth and job creation, and demonstrating the superior value proposition of transparent markets and private enterprise for driving growth.

In support of realizing the goal of Prosper Africa, the U.S. government is providing technical assistance to implement sound trade and investment policies, facilitating compliance with international standards, supporting the modernization of customs and border management, establishing fair and reciprocal trade agreements, and encouraging the development of the African Continental Free Trade Area to reduce the cost of trade and to boost the competitiveness of U.S. and African firms in global markets. 

Moreover, we recognize that fostering a business climate conducive to trade and investment also requires ensuring the security of key regions, supply chains, transport lanes, and logistics hubs. 

As we commence on today’s program, I look forward to engaging with our African partners to identify how we can expand commercial opportunities to the benefit of all of our countries. It is fitting that we are here in Tunisia—a country with incredible opportunity— for our first Maghreb Prosper Africa conference, a region of the continent that the Romans first referred to as “Africa.” 

With a schedule filled with informative panels and presentations focused on energy, innovation, and agribusiness, there is no doubt that today’s conference will be a formative one. Many of today’s speakers come from a range of private and public sector organizations, including U.S. government agencies such as USAID, the U.S. Export-Import Bank, and the new U.S. Development Finance Corporation.

Please take advantage of the expertise and resources available on a diverse array of topics like financing, exporting, and supply chain management.  

In closing, I’ll end with two words, thank you. The United States is a friend and ally of Africa, and we seek to deepen and enhance that relationship. I look forward to hearing your ideas and recommendations throughout the day, and then taking them back to Washington, D.C. for implementation. 

Thank you again, and here’s to a Prosperous Africa.