Recognizing that investment in infrastructure is an essential part of the economic shift now occurring across North Africa, the United States is engaging resources from across the U.S. government to connect U.S. businesses to opportunities in the region.
The move aimed also to unlock private and public sources of financing to support infrastructure development in North Africa.
In her remarks at Infrastructure and Business Opportunities in North Africa Event in Washington DC, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Deborah A. McCarthy for Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs National Council on U.S. Arab Relations discussed Arab Spring and North Africa through the lens of infrastructure.
“The Arab Spring was born in part from economic imbalance. “ – McCarthy
Creating the critical infrastructure that facilitates investment, job creation, and entrepreneurial success is an essential part of providing new opportunities to correct this challenge, which countries across North Africa are facing, Ms. McCarthy stressed.
She says businesses and young entrepreneurs cannot be successful without roads to deliver goods to market, ports to access international clients and new equipment, information and communications technology to tap into high-tech industries, airports to facilitate travel within and outside of the region, and many of the other kinds of infrastructure our people and businesses use every day.
To support infrastructure investment and the transitions now occurring in North African countries, U.S. companies forge new relationships across the region. She adds all Missions are using all available assets to support U.S. companies.
Ms. McCarthy reports that Assistant Secretary Fernandez led a delegation of more than 30 U.S. companies to Libya in late April for a conference on energy and infrastructure.
She cites that while in Libya, the delegation met with key ministers and planners to develop connections to Libya’s infrastructure construction plans in the post-Qadhafi era.
“There are tremendous business opportunities in Libya today. “ -Ms. McCarthy
She highlighted that there is a great deal of interest in U.S. technology and skills, and the United States should build a strong commercial relationship with Libya.
Ms. McCarthy also announces that Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides and Deputy National Security Advisor Michael Froman will lead the U.S. government delegation which includes Senior Advisor to the Secretary John Podesta, and representatives from the Department of Commerce, the United States Trade and Development Agency, and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.
The purpose of the delegation is to identify new business opportunities and partnerships for U.S. companies, express U.S. business confidence in Egypt, and demonstrate a commitment to Egypt’s long-term economic development, she noted.
“Improved connections between infrastructure companies and the region must be supported by access to credit to finance infrastructure.” -Ms. MacCarthy
She stresses that global economic woes have compounded this challenge as European and U.S. banks have withdrawn from infrastructure finance.
To counter this trend, the United States is working to open a variety of channels for governments to access new private funds.
In Egypt, OPIC has approved a new, innovative financing mechanism to support access to credit for small and medium sized business.
She says the OPIC’s $250 million loan guarantee facility can support up to $700 million in lending by local banks and non-financial institutions to small and medium sized enterprises.
In Tunisia, a U.S. government team of economists led by the Millennium Challenge Corporation has partnered with the Government of Tunisia and the African Development Bank to identify Tunisia’s constraints to economic growth, Ms. McCarthy stated.
According to Ms. McCarthy, the State Department is also working to improve access to public funds for infrastructure development to supplement and unlock private sources finance where the market cannot meet North Africa’s development needs on its own.
“Our goal is to prime the pump for increased private sector investment across North Africa.” -Ms. McCarthy
The US government sees development as a business opportunity for American companies.
The Arab Spring has opened new kinds of political and economic opportunity across North Africa on an unprecedented scale, Ms. McCarthy
She adds that tremendous opportunities across the region and have enhanced US efforts to engage U.S. business and bring them to the region.
“Our efforts are keenly focused on the need for infrastructure to support growth of all businesses in the region.” -Ms. McCarthy
She underlines that new investments in the region and connections between the U.S. business community and North Africa’s people are already supporting this vision, and we look forward to the prosperity that will come with continued engagement and investment.
“Our economic officers in Washington and at embassies throughout the world are ready and eager to work with you.” -Ms. McCarthy
Libya has been engulfed by fighting since a pro-democracy movement opposed to the regime of Muammar al-Qadhafi emerged in February 2011 following similar protests in Tunisia, Egypt and other countries across North Africa and the Middle East.
Hundreds of people have been killed in the fighting and hundreds of thousands of others have been internally displaced or forced to flee to neighbouring countries.
The United States has played a central role in marshalling the international response to the crisis in Libya. Together with its partners, they have saved thousands of lives and helped confront a ruthless, erratic dictator who was poised to slaughter his own people in order to hold on to power.
For Egypt, in February 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that the United States stands ready to provide assistance to Egypt to advance its efforts. Secretary Clinton announced $150 million budget to assist Egypt in its economic recovery after turmoil.
Earlier this year, President Obama has proposed a $1 billion cancellation of Egyptian debt to support Egypt’s economic recovery.
Egypt has made progress on human rights since the revolution that toppled the regime of Hosni Mubarak earlier in 2011.
Long-standing regimes were toppled by a wave of pro-democracy protests that have engulfed much of North Africa and the Middle East in 2011, particularly in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.