Global Connectivity for Urban Leaders

Reta Jo Lewis
Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs 
German Marshall Fund (GMF)
Washington, DC
May 21, 2013

Good afternoon everybody and thank you Geraldine for that kind introduction.

It is a sincere privilege to be with all of you today. I appreciate that you have taken the time to join this discussion about the global engagement of local leaders.

I would like to take a moment to thank the German Marshall Fund’s Transatlantic Leadership Initiative and Urban and Regional Policy Program for hosting us today. Many thanks to Geraldine and Kevin Cottrell and their teams. I would also like to thank Lora Berg for arranging this program. I have had the privilege to collaborate with Lora when she was at the State Department and it’s great to work with her again.

As the Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs, I lead the U.S. Department of State’s efforts to collaborate with state and local leaders and their counterparts abroad to meet U.S. foreign policy goals and to foster economic, cultural, and educational relationships. My office is charged with building strategic peer-to-peer relationships with U.S. state and local officials and their foreign counterparts around the world.

As you are aware, urbanization is occurring at an unprecedented rate, especially in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Fifty-two percent of the earth’s population now lives in cities. Every week one million people move to cities. Continued rapid urbanization will lead to three billion new urban dwellers. As an article in the Economist stated in 2011, “Cities, rather than states, are becoming the islands of governance on which the future world order will be built.”

In this context, pragmatic global partnerships that focus on solutions are essential to solving global challenges, such as climate change, human trafficking, poverty, food security, governance and transnational crime.

U.S. foreign policy traditionally has focused on nation-to-nation relationships. But the scope of what defines nation-to-nation conversations are shifting in the modern, more global, and more flattened world – rendering city-to-city, and state-to-state dialogues just as critical to the larger context of executing, implementing, and achieving a nation’s overarching diplomatic goals.

Building peer-to-peer relationships between state and local elected officials has a direct effect on foreign policy that often goes unrecognized. Building these relationships and encouraging these engagements at the subnational level has the potential to be a force multiplier, expanding the reach and effectiveness of soft power.

Peer-to-peer relationships provide state and local leaders around the globe with an intimate glance into the American way of life, and more importantly, into our democratic institutions and system of governance. At a more basic but equally important level, these interactions develop trust – an attribute essential to developing strong bilateral ties.

Confronting some of the most difficult global challenges will require innovative approaches to complex problems. Subnational engagement promotes the interchange of ideas and the adoption of best practices across different spheres. Hence, these peer-to-peer relationships between local leaders are critical if we are going to address difficult issues like climate change.

One of the most serious challenges that we face today is the economy. When I started this job three years ago; I reached out to local leaders in the United States and asked them how the U.S. Department of State could assist them. The number one answer was to promote economic growth within their communities. Mayors and governors lead foreign trade missions because it is in their interest do so. And, they do it with or without our help. It is in interest of our national economy to help local officials succeed in promoting their city or state, and ultimately making connections that lead to trade flows and economic growth which benefit all of us.

Subnational engagement utilizes our state and local leaders as an extraordinary source of innovation, talent, resources, and knowledge. After all, it is the states and cities that are the engines of growth at the ground level where the transition from policy to practice becomes most visible. Tapping into this resource fully employs our human capital.

Twenty-first century global challenges require us to work with new partners to collaborate and innovate globally. This is a core principal of subnational engagement, a strategy for creating partnerships for achieving modern diplomatic goals by engaging all the elements of our national power and leveraging all forms of our strength.

When former Secretary Clinton created the Office of Global Intergovernmental Affairs in 2010, she emphasized the need to utilize local leaders as a key component in the much needed, widespread, and deep-rooted efforts to take on our world’s greatest challenges. A key part of that charge is empowering subnational officials to lead their states and communities to a stable and secure future.

My job is to connect what the Federal Government does best with what state and local governments are doing and can do globally.

To that end, the Office of Global Intergovernmental Affairs, in conjunction with U.S. Embassies and State Department bureaus, has led the negotiations and secured collaboration frameworks confirming commitments to prioritize subnational engagement with: Brazil (U.S.-Brazil Memorandum of Understanding to Support State and Local Cooperation; China (Memorandum of Understanding Supporting U.S.-China Subnational Cooperation); India (U.S.-India Conversation between Cities); and Russia (Joint Statement on Strengthening U.S.-Russian Interregional Cooperation).

It is important to note that these relationships are organic. That is, cities and states are doing this on their own, because the leaders see the benefit of building these connections. It is our job to encourage and leverage what has been occurring organically to promote U.S. foreign policy.

I would like to share with you three quick examples highlighting the kind of work we do, so that you get flavor of both how the State Department is engaging and what is happing on the ground.

Brazil will host the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games. In April 2012, the United States and Brazil signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to Support State and Local Cooperation. This agreement affirms our mutual resolve to strengthen and expand cooperation and encourage peer-to-peer exchanges between subnational officials and local populations. These exchanges further enable local government to bolster trade and investment, share ideas and best practices, and advance local priorities while contributing to mutual understanding between our two countries.

In support of this agreement, I have traveled to Brazil and visited almost all of the host cities and states of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games. My travel and direct contact with federal and local leaders have provided an excellent opportunity to bolster collaboration between local officials in Brazil and the United States. In addition, U.S.-Brazil cooperative efforts have focused on building economic opportunities for the U.S. private sector through Brazil’s unique position as host of these events.

With fewer than 400 days until the start of the World Cup, we are moving rapidly on several fronts to promote U.S.-Brazil cooperation to support the organization of upcoming mega-sporting events.

Earlier this month in New Orleans, my office and the State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security co-hosted a two-day Symposium on Security for Major Sporting Events. We convened security officials from the Brazilian states which will host the 2014 World Cup Games and officials from eight U.S. federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies responsible for the organization and support of Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans to share best practices on the coordination of the largest annual sporting event in the United States. The recent tragedy in Boston reminds us of the importance of effective collaboration with local officials on the security of major events.

In China, we were instrumental in the establishment of the U.S.-China Governors Forum in 2011. The Forum brings together Governors from both countries to discuss pressing issues and promote economic exchange. This dialogue fosters interactions that have resulted in tangible U.S. job creation.

I visited China last month where I played a role in bringing three U.S. Governors together with five Chinese provincial leaders at the third U.S.-China Governors Forum in Beijing and Tianjin. The U.S. Governors and their Chinese counterparts discussed economic and trade cooperation in order to advance U.S.-China economic cooperation at the local level. Chinese President Xi Jinping met with the U.S. and Chinese Governors on April 15, and called for deeper regional cooperation between the two countries.

In addition, California Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. led a highly successful trade and investment mission to China in April. Multimillion-dollar business deals between Chinese and Californian companies were announced during the visit. At a reception at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, hosted by Ambassador Gary Locke, Governor Brown announced a $1.5 billion investment partnership between a California-based developer and a China-based investor and developer that will create thousands of California jobs.

In the multilateral sphere, we were able to include local elected officials on the U.S. delegation to Rio+20. This is a reflection that issues, like sustainability, require input from all levels of government to ensure that the multilateral negotiating process is transparent and inclusive.

Local participation on the Rio+20 delegation was crucial, given that cities across the United States have adopted comprehensive sustainability programs, and are in the process of transforming themselves to greener and more efficient urban centers – be it large metropolitan areas like New York’s “PlaNYC” or Chicago’s “Climate Action Plan,” or small cities like Fort Collins, Colorado’s “Sustain Fort Collins” or Austin, Texas’ “Climate Action Plan.” It is important to understand what is happing on the front lines and to give local leaders a voice at the table.

So again, organizing subnational relationships promotes a deeper cultural exchange among nations; advances principals of openness, freedom, transparency, and fairness in economic growth; and assists in the creation of a sustainable future.

To recap: Why are we doing this:

o Because these relationships are there, they are happening and they provide a real benefit for our interests abroad. So we need to understand them, encourage them, and whenever possible leverage them, to promote U.S. foreign policy goals and support U.S. interests;

o Because the future leaders are there. The odds are very good that the future leaders of both China and Brazil are currently serving as elected leaders of cities, states, and provinces.

o Because some of our best ambassadors are governors and mayors. Some of the most talented, credible, and articulate representatives of our democracy are serving at the state and local level, and not leveraging their talents limits our effectiveness.

o Because in a flat world, with decreasing tariffs and expanding trade flows, the unit of economic competition is no longer the nation state, it is the metropolitan era. In a globalized world making connections to, and learning from, your competitors is central to economic growth and success.

o Because the solutions to some of the most pressing global problems will be implemented at the local level. For example, climate change may be an issue discussed at the highest levels of multilateral governance, but its effects, mitigation and adaptation are the purview of local governments. It is local government that is changing the building codes and implementing new standards. It is local government that is dealing with transportation, air quality and sustainability issues. It is local leaders who are learning to manage mega-cities. The more these leaders learn from each other, more effective solutions will be implemented.

And with that, I am happy to take your questions.