Remarks at the U.S. Trade and Investment Conference

Charles H. Rivkin
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs
Algiers, Algeria
March 2, 2015

Thank you, Dr. Chikhoune.

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

Avant de continuer mon discours en anglais, je voudrais vous dire à quel point je suis heureux d'être ici en Algérie. Je voudrais préciser qu'il s'agit de mon premier voyage en Afrique du Nord. J'ai décidé de venir ici car je pense sincèrement que nous entamons un nouveau chapitre très prometteur dans notre relation commerciale.

I’d like to thank Minister Abdeslam Bouchouareb, the government of Algeria, the U.S.-Algeria Business Council, the National U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce, and the Forum Des Chefs d’Entreprises for hosting this conference.

As a former businessman, I am always delighted to speak with business people and those involved in bolstering private sector activities.

I am honored to be here today to co-lead the U.S. Trade and Investment Mission, which includes companies of all sizes across a broad range of sectors from renewable energy to high-tech agriculture to world-class services.

When I last met Minister Bouchouareb, he was in the United States leading an Algerian delegation on a roadshow across our country.

I am so pleased to come to Algeria with this group of U.S. companies, so we can build on that success. Our reciprocal interest in strengthening the commercial ties between our two nations couldn’t be more evident.

Five months ago, with the Minister, I spoke to a gathering of business people and political leaders from the U.S. and Algeria; some of you were there, I believe.

I spoke about the potential opportunities Algeria offers to U.S. firms and, conversely, the high quality products and services American companies can bring to the Algerian people.

I also spoke about the need for diversification and more investment in the Algerian economy to offset its dependence on energy. As it stands, the hydrocarbon sector contributes 40 to 45 percent of GDP, making Algeria vulnerable to fluctuations in oil prices.

As oil prices remain low, that need couldn’t be more urgent or timely.

Fortunately, the Algerian government has shown leadership in planning to evolve its economy towards a more diversified and sustainable model.

No one is more prepared or qualified to partner in that transition than U.S. companies, who are here to establish ongoing and lasting relationships that strengthen both of our countries.

American firms bring with them the latest technologies, the world’s best business practices, and most importantly, the know-how that they can transfer to their Algerian partners so that Algerian companies can become leaders in new sectors across the country.

Beyond the large investments and business transactions, U.S. companies also have a culture of promoting innovation and entrepreneurial spirit that proves over and again to be our greatest export.

We, in no way, have a monopoly on these traits; our Algerian friends in the audience are proof of that. But we recognize that a business friendly climate that fosters creativity, and which rewards rather than stigmatizes entrepreneurs who have the courage and vision to take risks, is critical for small and medium enterprises to thrive.

It is precisely these firms that will foster economic growth, create jobs and contribute to rapid diversification. A fabric is made strong by the many threads that form it.

I applaud Algeria’s impressive efforts to invite more foreign investment and expand the Algerian economy, especially focusing on job opportunities for young people.

The United States stands ready to support this process. However, to be truly helpful, we must highlight the barriers that impede greater trade and investment so we may properly address them.

Many U.S. investors and businesses with interests in Algeria have identified challenges that they continue to face.

For example, the regulatory environment can seem opaque, which may contribute to the perception of commercial risk for foreign investors.

Another challenge that is raised often is the 49/51 rule, which prohibits foreign companies from having a majority ownership stake.

With greater incentive to participate, many more American companies will come forward to support Algeria’s efforts to build the economy that its people deserve.

But I am confident in the commitment of this government to break down many of these barriers, and I hear that commitment in my meetings with our Algerian partners.

Two weeks ago, a delegation led by Dan Mullany from USTR, who is also our chief negotiator on T-TIP, was in Algiers for a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement discussion.

This was the first such meeting in more than 11 years, and it restarted conversations on how to facilitate easier access for goods and greater flows of capital.

In these talks, both sides discussed overarching issues such as the investment climate and intellectual property protection, as well as more specific topics regarding barriers to particular industries and imports of overly-regulated goods.

Throughout these discussions, it was clear that both sides had an honest and sincere interest in overcoming the obstacles of the past and setting a new tone for the future.

That mutual good spirit and shared purpose were both evident during our discussions around the World Trade Organization.

Algeria is among just a handful of countries that have not yet acceded to the WTO, but hopefully this will change soon.

The fact is, WTO members create more and better jobs, and membership could boost Algeria’s attractiveness for investment – something that the government has long recognized as a top priority.

It can be a long and difficult path to develop all the necessary binding disciplines. But when you consider Algeria’s emerging generation, and what this could do for their livelihood and their futures, it is well worth the effort.

The United States takes our commitment to supporting Algeria’s economic transition seriously, and we want to make sure that our actions always speak louder than our words.

The U.S. businesses that have traveled here on this trip with me have come to make tangible connections and secure real deals.

In just one week, the U.S. Department of Commerce will be leading yet another trade mission to Algeria, focused on safety and security – helping American companies find new export opportunities.

We also want to actively share our expertise whenever and wherever it’s needed.

Our embassy here is working closely with the Algerian government to implement a technical assistance program that would help forward its reform agenda.

Finally, the United States has programs and financial products in place to expand trade and investment opportunities between our two countries. U.S. agencies such as the Export-Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation – or OPIC – are in place to support American firms interested in being part of the Algerian economy.

Let me take a moment to highlight the work that OPIC has done in Algeria. For those who don’t know, OPIC is basically the U.S. government's development bank. They provide cheap long term financing and political risk insurance for development-friendly projects.

Since 1975, OPIC has invested around $375 million in Algeria. Most recently, OPIC financed the construction of a desalination plant built by GE, which is credited with increasing the supply of potable water in Algiers by 200,000 cubic meters each day – enough to supply 350,000 homes.

OPIC stands ready to invest even more in Algeria. Renewable energy, SME financing, infrastructure, housing, tourism, healthcare and telecommunications are all sectors where OPIC has the capacity to expand.

If there are projects or investors in these areas, please keep OPIC in mind. Their financing and risk mitigation tools can bring more assurance and security to aspiring projects and make them more financially attractive, while contributing to positive development outcomes at the same time.

Today, I come to reaffirm our country’s commitment to Algeria’s economic future. As long as the people of our two nations have aspirations and hopes for economic opportunity, it is our duty to honor them.

The areas of cooperation I laid out this morning 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 and to continue the good faith that has endured between our two countries.

Once we overcome the remaining hurdles, the potential of our relationship will be limited only by our imaginations. Thank you.