Remarks to Global Business Conference

Thomas Nides
Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources 
Loy Henderson Auditorium
Washington, DC
February 21, 2012

Thank you all very much. And first, I know many of you have made a long journey to be here, so thank you very, very much. And as Deputy Secretary of State and as a recovering businessman myself, I am delighted to welcome so many of my friends from my past and present lives all in one room. So welcome to all of you, and thank you for coming.

One reason I was so eager to work for Secretary Clinton is that I believe our foreign policy needs to do more at the intersection between business and diplomacy. I want to use my brief introductory remarks to help set the stage for today’s discussion with four simple questions: Why do we, as diplomats, care about economics? Why did we invite you? What do we, the government, bring to the table? And what do we hope to accomplish here together?

First, why do we, as diplomats, care about economics? The simple answer is that good diplomacy is good economics, and good economics is good for diplomacy. America’s global leadership and our economic strength at home are fundamentally a package deal, and we need to shore up both of them. We live in an era where the size of a country’s economy is every bit as important to exercising global leadership as its size of its military. The reach of our corporations extend far beyond where even our most aggressive diplomats and development workers hope to go. And, closer to home, America’s people are hungry for economic recovery. In a global economy, there’s no such thing as a purely domestic recovery. That means the State Department, which manages our relationships around the world, is essential to exercising our economic influence, keeping America prosperous, and creating jobs here at home.

Second, why did we invite you? Because we believe that building sustainable global growth and creating jobs at home is fundamentally a joint venture. The private sector innovates and allocates capital, and delivers remarkable products and services. And the government opens new markets and ensures the rules are fair. At a time when competition is fierce and jobs are still too far scarce, we in diplomacy and business have to bring our partnership to the next level. Because of the historic nature of what we are doing, we wanted to assemble a group that cares as much about the subjects as we do. I’m pleased to announce that over 120 countries are represented in this room today. Vice President Biden, Commerce Secretary Bryson, our Trade Ambassador Ron Kirk, and the heads of Ex-Im, TDA, and OPIC and Secretary Clinton will all be appearing here today. Business leaders from across American industry, from large companies to small ones, are in this room, as well as organizations working to promote American business and fair competition, including my old friend, Tom Donohue.

Which brings me to my third question: What do we, as the State Department, bring to the table? I would submit that the answer is: a huge amount. We are the face of the United States in over 190 countries and at 274 posts around the world. We fight for your rights. The State Department is about peace and prosperity, and this is the prosperity piece of our agenda. Over the past 60 years, we have helped establish the rules and institutions to safeguard healthy economic competition and spur unprecedented global growth.

For decades, our diplomats, trade negotiators, agriculture experts, and commercial service officers have worked hard on what Secretary Clinton calls Jobs Diplomacy. We have over 1,000 State Department economic officers around the world who wake up each day and ask themselves how they can help American companies large and small compete, connect, and win. From bilateral trade and investment treaties to open skies agreements, we open markets for your companies. We advocate on behalf of U.S. companies exporting to just about every country in the world. We make it a priority to help American companies take part in the growth unfolding across the developing world. At every turn, we have sought to ask and answer a simple question: How can we use diplomacy to create American jobs?

And whenever we have seen barriers to open and free and fair and transparent competition, our embassies around the world push back. We push back against unfair barriers to investment. We push back to protect intellectual property, to protest discrimination against our companies, and to guarantee that all companies get a fair shake, whether the owners sit in corporate boardrooms or government ministries. When American businesses are not fairly treated, that’s not just an economic issue; it’s also a diplomatic issue.

And let me be clear. We just don’t seek a fair shake for American companies; we seek a fair shake for all companies. The bottom line is that America’s economic renewal depends on the strength of our global economy. And the global economy depends on the strength of the American economy. We know that when the competition is open and free and transparent and fair to all people, American companies have what it takes to compete. And we know the same values that help our companies will also help local entrepreneurs, foreign businesses, and ultimately everyone for one simple reason: They create economic growth that improves lives.

Fourth and finally, what do we hope to accomplish here together? We want to hear from you. We want to know your concerns, where you see opportunities, where you see gaps in our work. We also want you to know that you can turn to us for support. Secretary Clinton, me, Under Secretary Bob Hormats, Assistant Secretary Fernandez, ambassadors from around the world, and so many others are committed to what we can to do help partner with American business. I’m the head of the Economic Statecraft Taskforce here at the State Department and we’re working to find innovative ways to be more responsive than ever we ever have been, a subject that Secretary Clinton will be speaking about at greater length later today. So what do we want to accomplish? We at the State Department want to help create the conditions that will empower American businesses to get out there and take the risks that will drive a recovery around the world.

I grew up in Duluth, Minnesota. Our idea of international commerce at the time was driving north a few hours to Canada. Today, the global economy is staggeringly complicated. Need I tell you in this room? We have global supply chains, risk, markets, competition from more places and more sectors than ever. The idea that business, on the one hand, and government, on the other hand, can simply operate in parallel worlds just doesn’t cut it. We have to work together. That’s what this conference is all about, and that’s why I’m glad you’re here. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

With that, I am honored to – and to have the pleasure of introducing someone who, by the way, had to take about 14 flights to get here, and arrived late last night to be here, he’s our Ambassador Ron Kirk, who is the United States Trade Representative. Ambassador Kirk is a member of President Obama’s cabinet, and he serves as the President’s principal trade advisor, negotiator, and spokesperson on anything trade related. You’re probably more interested in hearing what he says, so I’ll try to keep this short. But before he joined President Obama’s team, Ambassador Kirk served two terms as the first African American mayor of Dallas, Texas. Prior to becoming mayor, he served as the Texas Secretary of State under Governor Ann Richards. In addition, Ambassador Kirk has practiced law as a partner of the international law firm of Vinson & Elkins, and he is a native Texan and a great American. But, more importantly, he is as nice a human being and cares more about doing the right thing for American business than anyone in this Administration. So it would be my great honor to introduce Ambassador Ron Kirk. Thank you. (Applause.)