Remarks by Under Secretary Lago - August 20

Seattle, Washington
August 20, 2023

As Prepared for Delivery

Honorable ministers and guests, thank you for joining us today for the only the second-ever meeting of the High-Level Policy Dialogue on Women and the Economy and the Small and Medium Enterprises Ministers. 

My name is Marisa Lago, and I have the honor and pleasure of serving as the Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade at the U.S. Department of Commerce. It is a treat to co-chair this meeting with Dr. Geeta Rao Gupta, Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State. Ambassador Rao Gupta, thank you for your leadership in your current role and throughout your storied career.  

Huge thanks to the leadership of the City of Seattle and the Seattle Host Committee for hosting the APEC Senior Officials’ Meetings over the past weeks. This beautiful city on the Puget Sound is the perfect setting for our meetings, and not just because of the many innovative global companies that are based here. The city of Seattle, with its diverse history and connections to APEC, embodies our APEC host year priorities – interconnected, innovative and inclusive. 

I am a huge fan of the Women in the Economy Forum, as I was serving in U.S. government at the Treasury Department when former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton convened the first Women in the Economy Forum. I could wax lyrical about the substantive milestones that the Forum has achieved in the intervening years, but I will leave that to Ambassador Rao Gupta.

In today’s joint session, I am excited to explore the opportunities that lie at the intersection of women’s economic empowerment and the growth of micro-, small- and medium enterprises – or MSMEs. MSMEs are the backbone of APEC economies, accounting for more than 97 percent of all businesses and employ more than half the workforce across APEC economies. Entrepreneurship and small business ownership can provide an avenue to economic security and financial independence for women, while supporting jobs and local community development. 

APEC can empower women-owned MSMEs by helping them overcome barriers such as inadequate access to finance, lack of awareness of procurement systems, and fewer networks and role models – each of which prevents women entrepreneurs from fully realizing the opportunities offered by global value chains. Let me give you just one example: research shows that inclusive procurement programs enhance the reputation of both companies and governments, and can have a positive impact on profitability, resilience, and return on investment. Yet, today less than 1% of spending by large corporations on suppliers is earned by women-owned businesses.

Can we be ambitious and aim to double this percentage? How about we be audacious and seek to quintuple this percentage?! In APEC, we have a mechanism for reaching – and exceeding – this audacious goal. Earlier this week, more than 50 delegates, including women entrepreneurs, corporate procurement officials and government policymakers, identified gaps in support for sourcing from women entrepreneurs. This same group also highlighted best practices among APEC economies.

In another program that was held earlier this week, we convened 82 stakeholders and heard about empowering women entrepreneurs in cross-border e-commerce. Those of us here today know that e-commerce is a vital tool for businesses to reach customers. Yet, we see that in many APEC economies women are significantly under-represented. This disparity demands that we work together to understand the unique obstacles that women face in the digital economy. It is even more of an imperative that we find solutions to increase women entrepreneurs’ participation in e-commerce.    

I urge every single one of us to double down on our professional and personal commitments to help women and girls achieve their entrepreneurial dreams. 

With that, I am delighted to hand the proceeding over to my co-chair. Ambassador Rao Gupta, the floor is yours.