Launch of the United States-Mauritania Business Forum

launch of USMRBF
  • Honorable Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation,

    launch of USMRBF
  • Honorable Minister of Petroleum, Energy and Mines,
  • Colleagues from the diplomatic community,
  • Representatives of the chambers of commerce and the Mauritanian business community,
  • Members of the United States-Mauritania Business Forum,
  • Dear guests,
  • Welcome, good evening,
  • Thanks to all of you for joining me for this important event. Today we mark the inauguration of the United States-Mauritania Business Forum.  I am personally very pleased to have the Business Forum as a partner.  I congratulate Mr. Sid’Ahmed Benza on his election as President, as well as the other members of the board here on stage with me.  I thank each of the founding members of the Forum for their work to establish the group, and recognize in particular the leadership of Mr. Sidi Souenia.  Let me recognize my colleagues Andrew Byrley and Samba Diallo for their great efforts to support the Forum and this event tonight.
  • Tonight I would like to speak briefly about the partnership between the United States and Mauritania. Doing so will demonstrate why I am convinced that now is the right time for both governments to have a strong private sector partner to help us realize the full potential of our partnership.  After my remarks I am pleased that Minister Vetah has agreed to offer a perspective from the Mauritanian government.  Finally, Mr. Benza will explain more about the Forum.
launch of USMRBF
launch of USMRBF
  • Since my arrival in January, I have missed no opportunity to talk about the partnership that links our two countries. In pursuing our foreign policy goals, the United States has always depended on strong partnerships.  As Mauritania has evolved into an increasingly important regional player, our bilateral partnership has become stronger and more important.
  • You can see one example of this evolution in our embassy itself. As the very first country to recognize Mauritania’s independence, we are tremendously proud that our chancery was, for over 50 years, located here, right next to the Presidency.  But a modern partnership for the 21st century required a larger embassy, so today you can see the proof of our expanding partnership in the beautiful new chancery on the Nouadhibou Road.  And I am very pleased to confirm that, thanks to the arrival of new staff, our consular services have resumed, and Mauritanians seeking visas for travel to the United States are able to schedule an interview here in Nouakchott.
  • Ladies and gentlemen, partnerships are built on shared interests. So let me outline some of the U.S. interests in this partnership, and explain where the Forum fits.
  • First, many of you are familiar with our security partnership. We are proud to have provided training and other support that helped to boost Mauritania’s security capabilities.  We are very pleased that our bilateral cooperation is now expanding to include the G5 Sahel.  The United States strongly supports the G5, and we congratulate General Hanana Sidi on his selection as Commander of the G5 Sahel Joint Force.  A strong and stable Mauritania in a strong and stable Sahel is a priority for the United States.
  • Another longstanding priority for our partnership, ladies and gentlemen, is support for the fundamental issues of democracy, justice, and human rights. These have been and remain core pillars of US foreign policy.  30 years as a diplomat working around the globe has convinced me that true and lasting stability goes hand-in-hand with a strong democracy, with opportunities for all, and with respect for the rights of every citizen.  The United States is proud of our work to support Mauritania’s ambitions in these fields.
  • Cooperation on security and human rights is directly linked with our third priority, and the one I will focus on tonight, namely the economy. Our economic cooperation takes many forms.  We support development and economic growth in Mauritania because this is good for both Americans and Mauritanians.  Last month I was in the regions of Gorgol, Guidimaka and Brakna talking with partners about projects that the United States funds to fight food insecurity and malnutrition.  This year we are providing over $8 million to these efforts.  Earlier this month I helped inaugurate a training program at the Naval Academy in support of our common priority to improve the employability of Mauritanian youth.  My embassy also provides support to dozens of cooperatives and local organizations to spur improved economic development, particularly in the agricultural sector.  These and many other U.S. efforts are supporting Mauritania’s growth, development and stability.
  • But there is another side to economic development. As I said, I’ve been in this business for 30 years.  In every country I have worked, American trade and investment has been an important driver of economic growth and development.  S. firms bring know-how and capital.  They bring traditions of strong corporate governance and genuine commitments to make a difference in their community.  So for every U.S. Ambassador, American businesses are a key partner in pursuing our objectives.
  • And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I am so thrilled to have the United States-Mauritania Business Forum as a partner. Together I hope we can expand bilateral trade, introducing more U.S. companies to the tremendous opportunities in Mauritania, and vice versa.  One of our early priorities will be to work with small and medium-sized Mauritanian firms who are interested in the U.S. market.  Benza will say more about the Forum and its ambitions in a few moments.
  • As I do not need to explain to this audience, trade and investment between our two countries has historically been low. But big changes are coming.  The discovery of gas by Kosmos, and the arrival of Exxon and the other leading western oil firms, marks a change for Mauritania and for our economic partnership.  I congratulate President Aziz, Minister Vetah and all involved in this effort for their success to date.
  • Have no doubt: your country is at the start of a very long and, frankly, complex process.  The opportunities stemming from the gas revenues are massive.  They can provide Mauritania with the resources you need to invest in your country’s most important resource:  your people.  This is a golden opportunity to invest in education, health, roads, and new jobs – an opportunity that Mauritania must seize.
  • Realizing Mauritania’s great economic potential and the opportunities that will flow from natural gas also requires a better business climate. I congratulate the Mauritanian government for their recent improvements in the World Bank’s annual Doing Business report.  But that needs to be seen as only the first step in opening Mauritania’s economy to the sort of private investment – whether domestic or foreign – that will generate the employment and stability Mauritania seeks.
  • Over the course of my brief time in Nouakchott I have talked with a lot of Americans who are interested in doing business here. All of them generally raise the same concerns.  One is the business climate and rule of law.  Another is regional security.  But a third is human rights and democracy.  Questions about slavery, about discrimination and lack of opportunity, and about democratic governance come up all the time in my discussions with businessmen.  That is why I believe so strongly that all of these priority issues are intertwined.
  • When I talk with interested investors, I explain the real progress Mauritania has made in each of these areas. But as with the Doing Business report, this progress can only be the starting point of more robust efforts on human rights and democracy.  Improvements are essential to unlock the full potential of Mauritania’s wealth, not only in terms of trade and investment, but also, for example, by opening the possibility of large-scale projects with the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation.
  • Ladies and gentlemen, I have already spoken too long. But I hope that highlighting our priorities gives you a better sense of the scope of the bilateral partnership.  I see a very bright future, and that is largely because of the partners we work with – including each and every one of you here tonight.  I would like to especially thank Minister Vetah and the other members of the Mauritanian government for honoring us with their presence here tonight, and for their contributions to building the partnership between our two governments.
  • As I said at the start, the two governments alone cannot reach the ambitious goals we set for ourselves. We need partners like all of you.  And we need a strong partner like the United States-Mauritania Business Forum.  Congratulations on the launch of the Forum!  Long live the cooperation between the United States and Mauritania!