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Pushing for Progress in the Middle East and North Africa

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(Photo: ©  WEF)

Guest blog post by Francisco J. Sánchez, Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade Secretary, Department of Commerce

Recent events have reaffirmed just how extraordinary this period is for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).  The Arab Spring has generated a lot of hope for people across the region. However, it’s also presented a number of questions that need to be answered, many of which center around economic issues like unemployment and slow growth. 

As the World Economic Forum (WEF) put it, “Recent shifts in the Arab world, coupled with an economic contraction at the global level, have created renewed urgency for decision-makers across the region to address the unfolding economic situation.”

So, it’s fitting that, this past weekend, King Abdullah of Jordan hosted a WEF event to address job creation. World leaders gathered to discuss pressing issues including the advancement of youth and women, the impact of social media, and, of course, U.S.-Arab relations.

I was honored to be one of the 1,000 people, from more than 50 countries, who participated in the event.  In particular, I was proud to be a part of a panel discussion focused on how Arab governments can use regional and global trade to restart growth and drive economic and social development. 

My message was clear:  The United States encourages trade liberalization and increased bilateral trade as a tool to create economic growth and jobs for all citizens in the Middle East. 

I am conveying this same message during the week as I travel through Jordan, Jerusalem, the West Bank and Israel on a policy mission. It’s going to be a productive period. 

For two days, I’ll meet with senior Israeli and Palestinian government officials and local businesses to engage in commercial diplomacy and reiterate the U.S. government’s support of economic development and partnership in the region.

In addition, I’ll participate in a roundtable at the General Motors Research and Development Center outside Tel Aviv to highlight how important innovation is to the future of the U.S.-Israeli commercial relationship.

This is an important trade mission with significant partners. Consider that in 2010, Israel was the third largest U.S. export market in the Middle East and North Africa, with merchandise exports totaling $11.3 billion.

Total bilateral trade between the United States and Jordan was $2.2 billion in 2010. And, U.S. exports to the West Bank have increased by more than 117 percent since 2008.

As we look ahead, there is enormous potential. By building on our existing relationships with initiatives that are guided by mutual interests, we can push for significant progress. The dialogue taking place this week will bring us steps closer to this goal. Together, we can help ensure that this chapter for the MENA region brings new opportunities for all its people and partners.

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