Remarks at a Reception to Celebrate the Groundbreaking for the USA Pavilion at the Milan Expo 2015

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Ben Franklin Room
Washington, DC
July 16, 2014

Well, buongiorno tutti, good morning. I’m delighted to be here, and I will be even more delighted to be in Milan. (Laughter and applause.) We are really pleased to host this celebration. And as you all know, we are holding this in conjunction with the actual groundbreaking in Italy, which is about to take place. So we are linked in real ways. And I want to start by congratulating Ambassador John Phillips, who is there; all of the guests who are with him right now. They may even be viewing us live as we do this. They’re enjoying an aperitivo; we are not, I want you to know. (Laughter.) It’s not 5 o’clock here and the sun isn’t over the yardarm, even though it’s getting close over there.

I am delighted to welcome Italy’s ambassador. We are really happy to have you here, Claudio, and thank you for all your great work. Claudio Bisogniero. (Applause.) And Great Britain’s Ambassador Peter Westmacott, a host of others – thank you all for being here. French ambassador is here. We are delighted. And finally, David Thorne has already introduced her, but there is no greater booster of the bloodlines and the affection and the relationship between the United States and Italy, and that is our own Nancy Pelosi. And again, we are delighted to have you here. (Applause.) Perhaps one of our proudest Italian Americans.

Now, if you all look around, turn the screen there, that’s the groundbreaking about to take place right there. So we are virtual here in every respect. And I want to thank our Special Representative for Global Partnerships, Drew O’Brien. (Applause.) I also – I really want to thank all of the people who have – who are making this pavilion possible. And you can see the size and importance of it on the screen. You can see it up here in front. The Friends of the U.S. Pavilion Expo Milano 2015 is led by the James Beard Foundation and the International Culinary Center in association with the American Chamber of Commerce in Italy. And of course, there are other key sponsors and donors in the room today. You know who they are. You will all receive enormous public recognition and gratitude for having committed to this. And I heard David Thorne talk about those of you who are here today who are yet to be sponsors and supporters. What he didn’t tell you is you’re here, but you’re not allowed out of here until you are. (Laughter.)

I want to thank Chef Luigi Diotaiuti, who – he is from the Al Tiramisu restaurant, which I love to go to; I go to it when I get a chance to here in Washington. He has come and prepared some really delicious Italian-American food for us today. And I want to thank our Milan Expo Coordinator Bea Camp and her whole team for their excellent work to date. We’re very grateful for that. (Applause.) They will soon be working very closely with Ambassador Phil Reeker, who is also here with us today, who we are sending out to be U.S. consul general in Milan and oversee this initiative on the ground.

And finally, I want to thank the fellow behind me, our – my senior advisor here at the State Department who was also our ambassador to Italy for the last four years. He may have thought he was leaving Italy behind when he came back from Rome here to work with us, but he has remained a critical influence and instigator on this project.

Now let me just say a couple of serious words that – (applause) – a couple of serious words about this initiative. This is not simply a fair celebrating food, and I want people to understand that. This is much more serious, much more broad in its scope, much more visionary in its purpose, and it is important for people to understand that. From the very first World’s Fair that opened its doors in 1851, more than 60 World’s Fairs and Expos have taken place around the world. And each and every single one of them has been about the same thing: innovation, the future. And you can trace the history of many of the devices and technologies that we use every single day right back to these particular expositions – the x-ray, the dishwasher, the telephone, electrical wall outlets, the elevator, the touchscreens, almost every one of these things – you’ve got them in your pocket right now. Even the ice cream cone came out of an exposition. (Laughter.) And when the World Expo comes to Milan next year, innovation will once again be front and center.

But in this case, thousands of featured exhibits will focus on answering one critical question: How can we make sure that future generations are going to have enough healthy food to be able to eat? And that’s our goal. It’s a very ambitious one. Already, hundreds of millions of people around the world spend days severely undernourished. Nearly half of child deaths are rooted in under-nutrition and the lack of healthy food. And so we’re talking about 8,000 child deaths a day.

When I first sat down with President Obama to talk about becoming Secretary of State, he told me that food security was one of those looming issues that he really wanted to make a mark on, and he wanted to address it and he wanted our Administration to be serious about it, and this is one of the ways that we are. He’s proven as much, creating initiatives like Feed the Future, which is supporting farmers and by investing in various ways to make the food that they farm more fruitful, more plentiful, and more nutritional. And last year, it helped nearly 7 million farmers in 19 different countries to use new agriculture technologies and better management practices in their farming, their fishing, and their livestock-raising.

But as a global community, I don’t think there’s anybody who doesn’t know or think that we can’t do more. Nine billion people are expected to populate this planet in the not-so-distant future, by about 2050. And when you think about that, as well as all of the ways in which climate change is already making fishing and farming and irrigation and water a greater challenge than it was previously, it is no wonder that scientists are telling us now that we need to desperately expand global food production by an estimated 60 percent. And we need to do so in ways that are sustainable. I see our former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman here, nodding and knowing this is accurate. (Applause.)

So the bottom line, everybody, is we’re really – we’re just not going to get there without innovation, without better practices, without best practices being shared between people. And we’re proud that innovation, we think, is part of our DNA. It’s sort of definitional of America. And it might as well be written into our Constitution, because from the beginning of time with the guy after whom this room is named, Benjamin Franklin, the first diplomat, the father of the Foreign Service was an innovator par excellence, in his own way a lay scientist. And as a global leader in advancing food security, the United States feels we have to seize this opportunity to be involved in the 2015 World Expo in a significant way, and that is why earlier this year, President Obama announced that we’re putting together an outstanding USA Pavilion. Today, I’m proud to say we are moments away, as they wait patiently, to break ground on that pavilion in Milan, and we are moving this critical effort forward.

We have been at the forefront of agricultural innovation since the great American scientist Norman Borlaug sparked a green revolution, inventing heartier crop species and farming practices that saved an estimated one billion lives on Earth. The Milan World Expo of 2015 is a chance for us to share with the world the work that American scientists, chefs, entrepreneurs, farmers, fishermen all continue to do day in and day out and helpful – hopefully help people to understand the ways in which we can make progress in the future.

Now that is not the only reason that President Obama and I are so committed to the USA Pavilion, and that obviously some companies have joined us in doing this. We view this as a way of dramatically expanding opportunities in a two-way street – for American business overseas, for Italian business and global businesses that take part in business on a global basis. This is also job creation. This is creating opportunity. And believe it or not, if you create food security and if you establish greater health that comes with better food security, you create stability. And with a vast youthful population growing in certain parts of the world which are a challenge to us from a security point of view, this is part of the mosaic even of national security.

So the trade relationship between the United States and Europe, the largest trade relationship in the world, is actually going to be augmented by this exposition. So ultimately, we need to finalize the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership because that will codify what we’re doing here and open up those opportunities, and we need to make this happen.

There is a reason that Milan is known as Italy’s motore economico, and the reason – the economic engine – because it’s a hub for business and for culture not only for Italy, but for all of Europe. And it is the perfect place for this expo to be taking place. The USA Pavilion will showcase American expertise in global food security, in agriculture, cuisine. It will plant seeds far more than just for food, but for trade and investment between the United States and international partners.

In total, 140 countries are slated to take part in this event. Tens of millions of visitors are expected. And we’re expecting millions more people to join us online and interactively. And that means that businesses, the ones that take part in the USA Pavilion, are going to be able to reach huge new audiences in every corner of the globe. So everybody who comes to take part in this is going to be part of being an ambassador, in effect. And the Italians have a saying that’s very similar to one that we have here in the United States: “Batti il ferro finche e caldo,” which means, if I said it correctly – (laughter) – strike while the iron is hot.

My friends, the iron is hot, and our hope is that this is a chance to really expand relationships, opportunities, express a vision for the world. We’re honored that so many of you have come to be part of it, that you already support it, and truly, for those of you who don’t yet, we invite you to do so, because this is something that can make an impact, and we want you to make that difference. Thank you all very much, and I do have to disappear to go to the White House. Thank you. (Applause.)

# # #