U.S. Ambassadors Describe Business Opportunities at NUSACC's Annual Forum

By Hanley, Delinda C. | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June/July 2014 | Go to article overview

U.S. Ambassadors Describe Business Opportunities at NUSACC's Annual Forum


Hanley, Delinda C., Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


The National U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce (NUSACC) and the U.S. Department of State co-hosted the Second Annual Ambassadors Forum on March 13 at the State Department's Loy Henderson Auditorium. Twelve U.S. ambassadors and acting ambassadors, nine Arab ambassadors to the United States, and representatives from more than 300 U.S. companies attended the forum.

In his welcoming remarks, David Hamod, president and CEO of NUSACC, dispelled misconceptions about the Arab world, including the view that the whole Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is in flames. The Arab Spring poses challenges, he acknowledged, but "disruptive does not have to mean destructive." U.S. goods exports to the Arab world are the highest on record, Hamod said, reaching over $70 billion in 2013. By 2018, exports of U.S. goods and services to the Arab world are forecast to reach $245 billion.

Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Anne Patterson called the long-term outlook for doing business in the Middle East region "very promising...There is a huge, youthful generation that is looking for new opportunities and new solutions. The instability you see in the news is part of that pent-up demand for a piece of the global economy." She urged American businesses "to engage-to be part of a next wave of opportunities in the region. In addition to being profitable, your involvement will generate jobs both in the region and here in America."

Ex-Im Bank chairman and president Fred Hochberg emphasized the opportunities for U.S. exports to the region. He described Ex-Im's 2013 "deal of the year," a partnership with Saudi Aramco and Dow Chemical to finance the Sadara Project, a massive petrochemical complex that will provide 18,400 jobs for 70 American companies and 44,000 Saudi workers.

U.S. ambassadors went on to discuss the region's burgeoning youth population, diversification efforts, the emerging private sector and efforts to build knowledge-based economies. The first panel, moderated by Ambassador Jose Fernandez, a former assistant secretary of state, explored economies in transition and was composed of current U.S. ambassadors posted in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia.

"Strong commercial connections are a key element in strengthening U.S.-Egyptian ties," noted Ambassador Marc Sievers, America's acting ambassador to Egypt. The U.S. is Egypt's largest trading partner, Sievers said. Since the January 2011 revolution, many American firms have expanded operations in Egypt, while others have taken a "wait and see" attitude. Three sectors poised for commercial growth include: healthcare, with plans to develop 26 new hospitals in 2014; food and beverages, which appeal to Egypt's youths; and information and communications technology (ICT).

U.S. Ambassador to Jordan Stuart Jones described opportunities for private sector partnerships for U.S. firms in the Hashemite Kingdom. "The United States, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), will spend $100 million over the next five years to support private sector growth and work force development in Jordan," Ambassador Jones said. In addition, a $5 billion grant for infrastructure development offered by four Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) donors will provide U.S. firms with new opportunities. He reminded listeners that "Jordan provides a platform for entry into rapidly growing markets in Iraq."

U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon David Hale outlined the challenges that Lebanon faces from the chaos and spillover from Syria. He mentioned the State Department's Travel Warning, which notes that mounting violence in Lebanon has "resulted in death and harm to passersby in the vicinity." Although Americans are not targets, Hale stated, there is a real possibility of "wrong place, wrong time harm to U.S. citizens." Nonetheless, he added, Lebanese "move with ease in many cultures, are often multi-lingual, and are also well educated, making them excellent business partners. …

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