Building capacity to help Africa trade better

Press briefing on US policy in Africa with Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs


Press briefing on US policy in Africa with Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs

Press briefing on US policy in Africa with Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs
Photo credit: AZRainman | Flickr

Remarks by Tibor P. Nagy, Jr. via teleconference in Nairobi, Kenya, 6 December 2018

MODERATOR: Good afternoon to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub. I’d like to welcome our participants dialing in from across the continent and thank you all for joining the discussion. Today we are very pleased to be joined from Nairobi, Kenya by the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs, Tibor P. Nagy, Jr. Assistant Secretary Nagy will discuss U.S. policy in Africa, as well as outcomes on his current travel through the region.

We’ll begin today’s call with opening remarks from Assistant Secretary Nagy, and then we will turn to your questions.

ASST. SEC. NAGY: Thanks so much, Brian. Good afternoon, everybody. Bonjour, tout le monde. It’s a pleasure to be with you. I am in the process of concluding my second African trip. This time we visited Ethiopia, Djibouti, Eritrea, interestingly, and we’re finishing up in Kenya. We will be returning to Washington over the weekend.

I especially wanted to come out to East Africa second; if you remember, my last trip was to West Africa, but I wanted to visit East Africa to – number one – personally see some of the positive and very exciting developments going on in the Horn of Africa, thanks to the opening in Ethiopia both for their external relations and some of the internal opening that Prime Minister Abiy has been pursuing. And also, beyond that, I wanted to visit traditional U.S. partners, such as Kenya and Djibouti, and take a look at the close partnerships and bilateral relations that we have.

And I’ll be happy to answer your questions in a minute, but I have been just so encouraged by what I have seen, the positive changes going on, and for the first time in my career, to be able to engage directly with the leadership of Eritrea about the possibility of much better relations in the future. So I don’t want to monopolize the time; I wanted to give it to you. With that, I’ll stop and I’ll be delighted to take your questions. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Assistant Secretary Nagy. We will begin the question and answer portion of the call. When we call on you to ask a question, if you could provide your name and affiliation, and limit yourself, if you would, to one question covering the Assistant Secretary’s trip, as well as Africa policy.

You mentioned, sir, your visit to Eritrea and we have a question from Radio France International in Kenya, asking: Did you raise the dire human rights record with the Eritrean government, and what was their response?

ASST. SEC. NAGY: We discussed the full range of interests between the two countries, both externally and internally. I’m not going to go into any specifics, but rest assured that the human rights considerations are very much a part of U.S. consideration in our bilateral relationship with Eritrea.

Overall, let me say this about Eritrea: our intention is, hopefully, to get to the point where our relations with Eritrea are just as warm and cordial as our relations with Ethiopia, because both countries are vitally important. In many respects they complement each other, so that is the goal that we are pursuing. It will be step-by-step. It will obviously take time, but we felt that this initial opening dialogue was very important. Thank you very much.

MODERATOR: Our next question, again in advance, comes from Geoff Hill. He is with the Washington Times and is currently in Poland at the COP24 meetings. He notes that the United States, India, and South Africa have all stated they will continue to use coal for energy production, but seeking to burn it cleaner. And his question is, will the United States share its know-how in clean coal technology?

ASST. SEC. NAGY: Okay, on that one I’m sorry. I am not an expert on energy policy. I follow African issues very closely, so I don’t want to be misinterpreted or go off in the wrong direction, so on that one I will have to – in the words of American football – punt. Sorry.

MODERATOR: We will continue with questions we have received in advance, the next question coming from here in South Africa, from Bloomberg. Prinesha Naidoo asks about the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act eligibility review and would like to ask you, sir, when that review will be made public. When is the announcement expected?

ASST. SEC. NAGY: Sorry, I wish I could respond to that with a specific date, but that I do not know. We are absolutely discussing some next steps after AGOA, related to pursuing possibly some free trade agreements, some bilateral free trade agreements, that would be complementary to the Africa-wide continental free trade agreement. But as far as the specific date goes for the review, I do not know that at this time. Thank you.

MODERATOR: We will turn next to Bloomberg; I think we have Prinesha Naidoo on the line. We asked a question on your behalf about AGOA, but go ahead and introduce yourself and ask your question.

QUESTION: Thank you, yes, this is Prinesha Naidoo from Bloomberg. I just want to follow up on the AGOA question, whether the review has been completed already and if you can also provide some more information on what these bilateral free trade agreements would be, that would complement it.

ASST. SEC. NAGY: Okay, could you repeat the part on AGOA? Because I’m not sure I got what you were asking about AGOA.

QUESTION: Has the annual review for the countries’ eligibility to participate in the AGOA program been finalized already?

ASST. SEC. NAGY: That I really don’t know. I will have to check when I get back, so I wish I could give you a full answer on that. On the free trade agreements, here’s the background on that. Currently, the United States of America has no – that’s no – free trade agreements with any sub-Saharan African country. The only one we have with the continent of Africa is with Morocco, so this administration is very eager to pursue the first ever free trade agreement with a sub-Saharan country, which in effect would serve as a model.

So we’re going through the process now of talking to a number of countries to try to decide which one would be an ideal country for a model, and you know there would be many considerations for such, but part of my visit to Addis Ababa was two parts: it was both bilateral with the Ethiopian government, but it was also with the African Union, and while I was there for the African Union, we had our annual high-level dialogue, and the whole issue of a U.S. free trade agreement versus a continent-wide free trade agreement came up for considerable discussion, and we kept emphasizing the point that absolutely we support – the United States supports – the continent-wide free trade agreement, because we support Africa’s attempts at regionalization, sub-regionalization, and continental consolidation.

So we don’t want it to be in any way conflicting with or competitive with; we want it to be complementary to. So we’ll be undertaking bilateral discussions with potential countries, and then we’ll make a selection and take it from there. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. We have time, I think, for just one more question. Kevin Kelley, if you’re still on the line, go ahead and ask your question.

QUESTION: Yeah, hi, here I am. Thanks, Brian, and thank you again, Secretary Nagy. So I want to ask a general question about U.S. policy toward Africa. The Clinton administration, its signature initiative in Africa was AGOA. The younger President Bush’s signature initiative was PEPFAR, the very successful anti-AIDS program. And the Obama administration has Power Africa and Feed the Future. I’m wondering if the Trump administration is contemplating some sort of signature program in Africa that would be remembered as a, say, major contribution to U.S.-Africa relations. Thank you.

ASST. SEC. NAGY: Sure. I think in the very near future we will be rolling out a formal Africa policy, but what I can tell you now: I think a good indication was the recent passage and the signage by the president of the BUILD Act, which I think is extremely significant because it doubles the investable assets of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation from $30 billion to $60 billion. Much of that will be directed at the developing world, i.e., Africa, and it will provide a tremendous amount of flexibility, and not just for American companies, but for others to undertake bankable projects.

So I think that you can see that a lot of that focus is going to be on bringing foreign direct investment to Africa, because as we all know, that for an area to truly, truly develop, it requires tremendous amounts of outside direct investment. You know, we can talk about the development assistance, but there is never really enough money in any kind of development assistance to actually develop the country, but there’s a tremendous amount of foreign direct investment out there looking for a place to invest, and as I have told a number of African leaders, I will be delighted to push U.S. investors towards Africa; I need their help in pulling them by establishing an environment which is friendly to investors and what we call a “level playing field” so American businesses can have the same chance as businesses from other places, and a rules-based system.

So I think what I want is by the end of the administration that we can say that some of the countries in Africa will have made tremendous progress towards actually developing and not eternally being developing, but to get to “developed.” Thank you very much.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Assistant Secretary Nagy. That’s all the time we have. Sir, do you have any final words before we conclude?

ASST. SEC. NAGY: No. Thanks so much for doing this. Hopefully I will get around to the entire continent before my first year is up as Assistant Secretary. I’m into it five months now; we’ve visited two regions, we remain with central Africa and southern Africa for the next two trips, and I’ll visit as many countries as possible. Thanks so much.

MODERATOR: Thank you again, Assistant Secretary Nagy. We very much appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule, while you’re visiting the continent. Again, Assistant Secretary Nagy joined us from Nairobi, Kenya. That concludes today’s call.


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