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B.J. Pittman at Africa AGOA Private Sector Forum

Remarks at AGOA Private Sector Forum

Bobby J. Pittman, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary
Washington Hilton
Washington, DC
June 5, 2006

Remarks as prepared

9:30 A.M.

Introduction

* Good morning, and thank you for that kind introduction. It is a pleasure to be here with the Corporate Council on Africa and members of the U.S. and African private sector executives.

* It is an honor to be here. There are many reasons to be hopeful, and your friends in the United States are optimistic about the prospects for the continent.

* President Bush and Secretary Rice have made Africa a policy priority, and I am proud to stand before you as a member of their team. The President has directed his Administration to make the world "safer, better, and freer." The result has been a team with bold plans for Africa. We will continue to actively engage with Africa's leaders and people, as we have over the last five years.

The George W. Bush World View

* In his second Inaugural address, President George W. Bush declared: "The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world."

* The speech focused on the importance of political freedom for every man and woman, but today I'd like to speak about the corollary to the president's program of encouraging political freedom in all corners of the globe, and that is his economic program.

* As attorney and writer Albert Pike noted: "The sovereignty of one's self over one's self is called Liberty." There is a guarantee that all Americans are entitled to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." These elements contribute to every American's sense of individual freedom.

* The President refers to trade as a "forward strategy for freedom," and I have to agree. Many times, people differentiate between political and economic freedom, but that's an artificial distinction. If an individual has the right to vote, but he has no reasonable expectation of starting a business and benefiting from his own efforts, the man is not truly free.

* Political and economic liberties are two sides of the same coin. It is for this reason, that this annual meeting is so important. We gather to celebrate opportunity, as we brainstorm about ways to expand prosperity from the Sahel to the southern Cape.

* President Bush has sought out innovative ideas regarding better ways to offer development assistance, while also encouraging the growth of national economies on the continent. This is a president who has made it his goal to work in partnership with African countries to improve the lives of the continent's people and create opportunities for entrepreneurship and development. Ideally, these efforts will raise millions of Africans out of poverty, by offering economic opportunity and hope for a more prosperous future.

* Since sub-Saharan Africa remains the world's poorest region, with half of its 700 million people living on less than one dollar a day, the challenge before us is great and deserves our full attention.

Why AGOA Matters

* Toward that end, this will be the fifth ever AGOA gathering. The legislation that precipitated this gathering has had a large impact in a short time. In 2000, the U.S. Congress decided to extend preferential trade benefits to eligible partners on the African continent.

* In July 2004, President Bush signed into law the AGOA Acceleration Act, which fulfilled a promise to extend the legislation's benefits for the people of Africa through 2015. Under AGOA, nearly all the products that Africans produce and export enter the U.S. market duty-free. This latest extension of AGOA is one more step in the continuing US effort to build and improve on the success of this extraordinary initiative.

* Trade is a force that brings nations closer together. At each level, from the CEO to the entry-level analyst, counterparts work through issues on a day-to-day basis and form partnerships that have lasting effects. In a simple exchange of a good or service, each person comes to understand the other's country and culture better. This promotes peace, stability, and economic prosperity.

* The future for sub-Saharan Africa continues to look brighter as many countries in the region have begun to reap the benefits of sound changes to economic policy, improved governance, and investments in key social sectors that have been undertaken over the past decade.

* With the expanding global economy, the continued growth of responsive and representative government, and the recovery from internal conflicts, much of Africa is poised to see more robust economic growth and an improvement in standards of living in the years ahead.

The 2006 Forum

* The theme of this year's gathering is "The Private Sector and Trade, Powering Africa's Growth." We chose the subject because repeated economic studies have shown that the most powerful engine for growth around the world is the private sector.

* Government has an important role to play. Political leaders can establish the policies that foster a favorable investment climate, such as a legal system that protects intellectual property and regulations that don't excessively burden business owners and entrepreneurs. However, new jobs are more likely to be created by private manufacturers and service providers.

* Americans have great respect for entrepreneurs, and by extension for commerce and trade. The values necessary to succeed in business are fundamental American values. To borrow from the President's Inaugural again, the President noted that "in America's ideal of freedom, the public interest depends on private character on integrity, and tolerance toward others, and the rule of conscience in our own lives. Self-government relies, in the end, on the governing of the self."

* I believe that small businesses and their owners are a stabilizing force for any society, since it increases the pool of people who believe they have a direct stake in the direction and well-being of their neighborhoods, their cities, and more broadly, their country.

* The values that we hold dear in the United States overlap to a great extent with the values that propel small business owners to succeed in the marketplace. In any business, it is crucial that both customers and suppliers trust the business owner. Honesty and transparency are essential, especially for an entrepreneur attempting to aggregate capital for investment or expansion. These are fundamental values of American business that we should honor not undercut. They are also values that we gladly share with our trading partners.

Conclusion

* These are values we hold dear in the United States, but they are not uniquely American. The desire for freedom is universal, across borders, cultures, and continents.

* The importance of international trade, other than the economic growth that is enjoyed by all participating nations, is that it becomes an opportunity to informally communicate and share American ideals with our trading partners and allies elsewhere in the world.

* Trade is an opportunity to build bridges, deepen relationships, and promote a better quality of life across borders and continents.

* For all of these reasons, we are very excited about the launch of the 2006 AGOA forum here in the US capital. Thank you again for inviting me to join you this morning, and now I would be happy to take any questions that you may have.

Released on June 5, 2006

ENDS

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