Robert D. Hormats, under secretary for economic, energy and agricultural affairs at the United States Department of State, told a packed room of dignitaries and business representatives on Monday evening that the State Department is actively working to promote U.S. exports as way to jump start the American economy.
“We understand that you just can’t leave it to companies alone. You need high-level advocacy. One of the things that we’re trying to do is to demonstrate that the federal government is engaged in that advocacy,” he said. “When the president goes out, he has two or three or four companies on a list, and he raises them with the president of China, with a number of others, where he identifies particular projects.”
The event, a reception and dinner held at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus, honored the U.S. ambassadors from Libya, Tunisia, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Oman, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. It was sponsored by the Business Council for International Understanding, and was part of the U.S.- Middle East Business & Export Promotion Tour.
John Tognino, Chairman of the Fordham Board of Trustees, began the program by recognizing each ambassador in attendance individually.
“Fordham is proud to say we are the Jesuit University of New York, but I think we can safely say for that this evening, we’re the Jesuit University of the world,” he said.
The tour, which is the first under the National Export Initiate—initiated by President Obama to double U.S. exports and create two million American jobs in the next five years—is bringing the ambassadors to New York, Chicago, Houston, Seattle, Milwaukee and the San Francisco Bay Area. The ambassadors are a resource for business both small and large, Hormats said, and can help establish relationships with governments there.
The Middle East is of particular interest, because countries with economies fueled by oil wealth are investing in projects as diverse as universities, medical complexes, highways and ports.
“The countries of the region are buzzing with new projects aimed at diversifying their economies and providing job opportunities for what is a very young population,” he said. “Those kids want to get jobs. They understand what’s going on, and if they don’t have the opportunities to get jobs, not only is it seriously frustrating for them, but it will also have serious social and political implications, and that’s of course an important part of helping them strengthen their development capabilities.”
As such, he noted that five trade agreements have been ratified in the area, and the Commerce Department maintains a foreign commercial service presence in 10 out of the 16 countries. China, South Korea, Turkey and European countries are all vying to sell their goods and services there too though, which is why he highlighted 20 trade missions to 25 countries, featuring more than 360 companies that the Commerce Department has organized since January.
Additional missions are also planned for Saudi Arabia in December, Jordan, Israel and the West Bank in February and Egypt and Morocco in March.
“In the Middle East and North Africa, you can’t just do this by impersonal context. You have to have good relationships first, and these trade missions are very important at developing these relationships,” he said. “That’s why more people going to the regions and ambassadors coming to the United States to talk about what they’re doing is important.”
That sentiment was also expressed by the Honorable David D. Pearce, U.S. ambassador to Algeria, in a meeting with Fordham students before the dinner. Pierce, a 26-year veteran of the Foreign Service who has been in Algeria since June 2008, answered questions from students about topics such as security as well as the effect of Islam on women’s lives there. He too emphasized the importance of personal contact there.
“Often time people will not deal with you until they kind of know who you are and really trust you. That can take a while; a lot of tea and a lot of calls,” he said. “I always make it a point when I go somewhere, to not have the first time I call on somebody be the time I want to ask them for something. You need to go and establish a relationship so that people know you are interested in them and have a relationship with them, so that when you do come by, it’s not just to get something out of them. People don’t like that.”