Remarks by Under Secretary Lago - August 10

Accra, Ghana
August 10, 2023

As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Mr. Shum, for the kind introduction. Good morning, everyone. It is an honor to be here and join you, Minister Hammond, Ambassador Palmer and AmCham President Bedwei to help launch the U.S.-Ghana Business Expo. 

It is also a treat to see so many familiar faces in the crowd, including folks who attended last evening’s kickoff reception.

Special thanks Minister Hammond and the Ghanaian officials for your hospitable, and typically Ghanaian warm welcome. And, more importantly, thank you for your commitment to partnering with the U.S. government to deepen the cultural, historical, economic and commercial ties between our countries. We so appreciate the tremendous efforts that the Ghanaian government has made to welcome hundreds of thousands of Black Americans and U.S. businesses. You extend your welcome through campaigns like the Year of Return, diaspora business roadshows to the United States; and the numerous people-to-people initiatives, visits and exchanges among our Chambers of Commerce, state and city government officials, and business communities.

Special thanks also to the American Chamber of Commerce for your vision and unwavering focus - as exemplified by this dynamic Expo. I so appreciate that we can always count on you to showcase the role of U.S. companies in Ghana, and the vast potential for partnerships between American and Ghanaian businesses. 

Convenings like these are concrete evidence of the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to promoting constructive fora that facilitate essential conversations. These conversations celebrate the longstanding ties between our people and strengthen trade and investment between our countries.

Last, but not least, thank you to Ambassador Palmer and our Embassy Accra colleagues for their support of this expo and our Global Diversity Export Initiative Trade Mission. Your diplomatic efforts advance inclusive economic growth opportunities – making the United States and Ghana more secure and prosperous.

I am pleased to return to Ghana, a beautiful country that I have had the good fortune of visiting on two previous occasions in my career. While this is my third visit to Accra, it is my first in my current role as Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade. In this role, I am fortunate beyond words to be leading a delegation of diverse U.S. companies and organizations representing a wide array of sectors, ranging from the information and communication technology, to trade services, to cybersecurity, to energy, to consumer goods, to automotives—all of which present great potential for increasing commercial collaboration between our countries.
In addition to the companies, our delegation includes several of the leading African American-led business chambers of commerce in the United States, as well as the Organization of Women in International Trade and the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development. Their participation underscores the U.S. Department of Commerce’s commitment to create a more equitable and inclusive economy by helping businesses in underserved communities prosper through increased international trade.

We are also joined by our trade mission sponsors – the National Black Chamber of Commerce, the Black and Global Business Network, ChipLab, and NAPAC Capacity Development Initiatives. Thank you so very much for your vote of confidence in our trade mission. Our mission is also supported by Prosper Africa, which is a whole-of-U.S. Government initiative that leverages the resources and services of 17 different U.S. Government agencies, including those of the Departments of State and of Commerce. Prosper Africa’s goal: to advance two-way trade and investment between the United States and Africa—which is exactly the reason that all of us are here today.

Let me share a few words about the guiding principles of our trade mission. At the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit and U.S.-Africa Business Forum last December, the Biden-Harris Administration announced a renewed commitment to partnerships between the United States and African countries, institutions and people. 

To state the obvious, there is enormous potential for increased commercial cooperation. Why? Because Africa has one of the world’s fastest growing populations and the potential to be the largest burgeoning free trade area. Add to that the strong people-to-people and diaspora ties between the United States and the nations of Africa. Not surprisingly, U.S. companies see—and are eager to seize—this opportunity. To give you a sense of the strength of U.S. business interest in Ghana, this particular trade mission, and exploring opportunities in Africa in general, I will share some inside information. The Department of Commerce initially started recruiting and inviting applications from potential participants last December. It did not take long at all until we had a pool of almost 200 companies vying for one of the 20 slots on this trade mission.

The Biden-Harris Administration and the Department of Commerce have prioritized ensuring that U.S. micro, small and medium sized enterprises, or MSMEs, especially those in historically underserved and diverse communities, have access to the resources, programs and opportunities that the Commerce Department provides to support U.S. companies looking to break into international markets through trade.

Ghana is on this journey, as it seeks to train and better support its own cadre of SMEs to develop exporting capabilities. The export skills-building resources available to Ghanaian SMEs through the Ghana Export Promotion Authority’s website are an excellent illustration of these efforts to better enable companies to approach foreign markets, whether in Africa or beyond. And I certainly hope that the “beyond” includes the  United States. 

This trade mission also advances another key priority of the Biden-Harris Administration: advancing equity across the U.S. Government’s initiatives. At the Department of Commerce, equity underpins everything that we do, including this trade mission. We established a dedicated program called the Global Diversity Export initiative, or GDEI, to drive our support of businesses from historically underserved communities. Today’s trade mission proudly comes to Accra under the GDEI banner. 

Equity is not only a just and fair policy, it also makes solid economic sense. Between 1995 and 2021 in the United States, small businesses accounted for nearly 63 percent of the new jobs that were created. That is around 17.3 million jobs, equivalent to a bit over half of Ghana’s population. Over the last decade, minority-owned businesses created 4.7 million jobs and accounted for over half of the new businesses formed in the United States. 

Among these diverse businesses are those led by members of the African Diaspora.  And that is true for some of the businesses on this trade mission. The close familial, social and economic connections that these individuals and businesses possess can help build even greater connections to countries across the continent, including here in Ghana. 

Today, more than 100 U.S. companies and brands are currently invested or have a local presence in Ghana. These companies are leaders in telecommunications, mining, financial services, oil and gas, artificial intelligence research, hospitality, food processing and education. They provide critical infrastructure and export earnings in Ghana, along with employment for Ghanaian citizens.  

Zooming out, emerging from the pandemic, total U.S.-Ghana trade has been on an upward trajectory. As our trade and investment relationship matures and continues to grow, we look forward to broadening the types of goods and services that we exchange.

In the short time that I have served as Under Secretary, I have been fortunate to witness some wonderful progress in our trade and investment relationship. Last October, I had the privilege of welcoming Ghana’s largest cocoa processor—Niche Cocoa—to the United States at the ribbon cutting ceremony of Niche Cocoa’s first processing facility in our country, in a small town in Wisconsin.

I hope that the exhibitors at the U.S.-Ghana Business Expo and the delegates on our trade missions will have the conversations and build the relationships that ultimately lead to exciting moments like Niche Cocoa’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.

At the same time, as discussions during this week’s expo will reflect, we must be as clear-eyed and open about the challenges as we are about the opportunities. We must strive to clearly identify inhibiting factors that are holding our businesses back from delivering greater trade and investment, and then work together to reduce or eliminate those barriers. 

Given the variety of crises occurring that can stifle economic activity, it is important to ensure that business environments continue to support and foster entrepreneurship, innovation, investment and trade. I look forward to my discussions this week with my counterparts in the Government of Ghana, and also the private sector, on how we can best work together on our shared objectives of improving the business environment and facilitating increased trade and investment.

Congratulations again to the Government of Ghana and AmCham Ghana on the launch of the Expo. I cannot wait to tour the pavilion, and see first-hand the innovative and high-quality goods and services offered by the companies assembled here today. Let us get down to business!