On October 26, the Assistant Secretary for the U.S. State Department Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs pledged to “create more links between the new [Arab] democracies and American industry.” Assistant Secretary Jose Fernandez briefed the 21st Annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference on successful economic development projects enacted since the Arab uprisings. The State Department is seeking to engage with the private sector to expand economic opportunities. The following are excerpts from the Assistant Secretary’s comments.

            In the MENA region, we have witnessed changing attitudes sweeping across borders. Underlying this change is a demand for economic opportunity, a demand for freedom, a demand for individual dignity, and a call for more inclusive prosperity. These demands are in fact daunting and are redefining the landscape around the region. But they also provide enormous opportunities, if the current turmoil can be channeled into creating successful democracies that bring about fiscal stabilization, jobs, and skills training. To do so, governments all around the world will need to support the development of the private sector, which previously languished in many countries due to cronyism, corruption, and state-centric economies…

Employing Our Tools: Government to Government Dialogue

            …For instance, next week the United States will chair the Deauville Partnership with Arab Countries to promote small and medium-sized enterprises in Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, and Yemen. Multilateral institutions and partners will work together to provide functional expertise and technical assistance to foster SME growth, improve job creation, and improve and create economic development. The Overseas Private Investment Corporation has committed or approved more than $433 million in financing and insurance in critical sectors that include transportation, finance, ICT, and franchising, as well as support for small and medium enterprises…

            We’ve started an initiative close to my heart called Domestic Finance for Development, or DF4D, to create an environment in which the small businesses we support in our other efforts can thrive, and the basic principle behind DF4D is that when countries can fund their own development, they will in fact own it. By improving tax systems, reducing corruption, and increasing fiscal transparency, a country can harness real growth and create real economic opportunity. As part of DF4D, we have been proud to announce a new partnership with the Financial Services Volunteer Corps, or FSVC, to provide technical assistance to transitioning democracies in the MENA region. In the areas of tax administration and transparency, we have contributed close to $1million to seed this initiative and the Corps is donating in-kind technical assistance expertise valued at $1.2 million. We are hoping to scale up this effort through financial or in- kind contributions from G8 partners.

Employing Our Tools: Engaging the Private Sector

            ...One of the most effective ways we work with the private sector is through the promotion of entrepreneurship. A key example of our efforts in this arena is the Department’s Global Entrepreneurship Program. With the help of over 100 private partners, the Global Entrepreneurship Program seeks to empower local people and businesses to become full participants in their economies through entrepreneurship. In many countries, the Global Entrepreneurship Program works with local business and communities not only to foster the ideal of innovation, but also to provide tools for people to create new businesses, to build a new life for themselves. For example, in our partnership with Egypt’s Competitiveness Program, we have created an increase in outreach activities that just recently involved 1,200 students at public universities. Additionally, ECP helped develop 35 startups, and in a short time they facilitated financing for up to 35 more startups…

Conclusion: We Will Not Retreat

            Let me conclude by repeating what I said at the outset: there are daunting challenges throughout the region. We need no more proof of them than the attacks in September that took the lives of four of our own and left scars across our embassies in North Africa. But President Obama has made clear that no amount of violence will make America retreat from the region. We will bring justice to those who harm us and our friends, but we will not be deterred from siding with history. We will support our allies; we will partner with new democracies to achieve the aspirations of all of our people.

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