Remarks at the Doing Business in Algeria Roadshow

Charles H. Rivkin
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs
Washington, DC
October 29, 2014

Thank you, Mr. Ambassador.

Monsieur le Ministre, et vos collègues et ministers du Gouvernement algérien … Monsieur L’Ambassadeur …. Les capitaines d'industries et les dirigeants d'entreprise …. Mesdames and messieurs ….Bienvenue et As-Salaam-Alaikum.

I’d like to welcome Algerian Minister Abdeslam Bouchouareb, his delegation of governmental and business leaders from Algeria, and Ambassador Abdallah Baali to Washington.

I’d also like to welcome our guests from the U.S. Government and business representatives. And many thanks to the U.S.-Algeria Business Council for organizing the Roadshow.

It’s always exciting to me to speak with business people. I spent 20 years as a businessman in the entertainment industry. After that, I was honored to represent my country as an Ambassador of the United States. And I learned that being a businessman and being a diplomat were not so very different.

As a businessman, I learned the importance of not only measuring profitability in terms of dollars and cents; it was equally important to measure value in the difference my companies could make in people’s lives – or the changes in someone’s understanding about the world.

As Ambassador, a key element of success was understanding how to listen; how to find common ground between countries, to maximize the effectiveness of our policies. For me, it was important for success to flow in many directions.

So when Secretary Kerry asked me to join his economic team and help lead what he called his “shared prosperity agenda,” I knew exactly what he had in mind.

I lead a Bureau that works every day to do precisely that. So I am delighted to have this opportunity to speak to you about ways our business ties can change futures, and deliver jobs to the people of both our nations.

Some may ask: What are the opportunities in Algeria? The answer is simple. As we meet, Algeria is at a key moment in its history.

It is evolving from a country rich in oil resources – to a country that recognizes the importance of moving away from dependence on fossil fuels.

It understands that to become a prosperous nation, it must evolve towards a more diversified and sustainable economy. And that is good news for both the Algerian people and the U.S. firms prepared to become partners in that future.

The signs are promising. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and his government have committed to building the country’s infrastructure, and bringing reforms that can spur job creation for Algerians and expand Algeria’s trade and investment.

As we speak, foreign investors, the Algerian business community, and the U.S. Embassy in Algiers are engaging the Algerian government on ways to improve the investment environment and attract more investment to Algeria.

We also recognize there is a long road still ahead, if Algeria is to realize its enormous potential.

Many U.S. investors and businesses with interests in Algeria have identified challenges that they continue to face. And forums like this provide an excellent platform to discuss them forthrightly and ask the important but sometimes difficult questions.

For example, the regulatory environment – according to many businesses and investors – is often opaque, which may create the perception of commercial risk for foreign investors.

Decision-making can be slow and there are often barriers to trade.

Another challenge is Algeria’s 49/51 rule, which prohibits foreign companies from having a majority ownership stake.

But as I look around me, I see Algeria’s political and economic leadership. I see representatives of some of Algeria’s largest agricultural, health care, hydrocarbon, construction, and manufacturing companies.

And on the American side, I see many of the companies with interests in Algeria, including senior management from GE, Anadarko, Varian, and AGCO.

You are precisely the right people to address these challenges in granular and tangible ways.

One major question to address would be Algeria’s accession to the World Trade Organization. We recognize that accession is a challenging process. But we strongly encourage Algeria to work through the many issues and make economic reforms in line with WTO obligations.

We are encouraged by the progress we see.

Alberto d’Alotto, president of the working group in charge of Algeria’s accession to the WTO, recently visited Algiers and had fruitful discussions with several ministers.

And it’s clear that your government fully recognizes the importance of Algeria’s WTO accession to jobs and economic diversification.

WTO accession will not only create greater trade between our countries, it will send a strong signal to investors that Algeria is committed to a rules-based trading system.

That certainty will encourage them to build business and support projects that will create employment opportunities for young Algerians.

This will support and build on other important successes – like Algeria’s decision to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S. Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association earlier this year. That’s a promising step to building a vital economic partnership.

I look forward to hearing many more success stories like Boeing’s recent contract with Air Algérie to provide eight 737-800 aircraft, a contract estimated to be worth $724 million ... or General Electric’s three contracts – worth almost $3 billion – with SPE, which would create nine power plants to meet Algeria’s power sector needs.

With our shared interest in further improving the business climate, we can realize more contracts like GE’s with the Government of Algeria to construct five new hospitals that will strengthen its healthcare sector … or Varian Medical Systems’ $51 million contract with the Algerian Ministry of Health, which will help build the country’s cancer treatment infrastructure with three medical linear accelerators.

Algeria has a history that goes back longer than the United States. But the future stretches even longer in front of us – and the book is not yet written.

As long as the people of our two nations have aspirations and hopes for economic opportunity, it is our duty to honor them.

These and other business initiatives are some of the ways that we can write our own stories, create our own prosperity, and change the trajectories of our future.

All we need is the political will to support business-friendly environments, to continue the good faith that has endured between our two countries, and our collective imaginations. The seeds for all those things can start right here, and right now, in Washington.

Thank you.