U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker Receives Commercial Diplomat of the Year Award


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Yesterday, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker was honored as the inaugural recipient of the “Commercial Diplomat of the Year Award” at the Foreign Policy Diplomat of the Year Dinner. This award recognizes a business or government leader who has actively promoted their nation’s interest internationally via commercial and economic diplomacy. In 2015 alone, Secretary Pritzker has traveled to Cuba, building a foundation for new trade opportunities with a formerly estranged nation; spearheaded an inaugural bilateral Commercial Dialogue with India; held economic discussions with Tunisia and Ukraine; and continued to strengthen the United States’ critical relationship with China during President Xi’s visit. She has consistently worked to engage the private sector as a partner of government in support of important policies and reforms.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the Vital Voice Global Partnership were also honored at last night’s dinner with the Diplomat of the Year Award and the Citizen Diplomat of the Year Award, respectively.

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, David. I am honored to be the inaugural recipient of the Commercial Diplomat of the Year award.  David, during your time as Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce at the International Trade Administration, you came to clearly understand the meaning and importance of commercial diplomacy as a cornerstone of our foreign policy.

Over the past two years, you have been an essential thought partner as our Department has developed our strategy to engage around the world. And I want to thank you for your friendship and your excellent stewardship. I also want to acknowledge my fellow awardees: Secretary John Kerry and Vital Voices.

John, I have known you and Teresa for a long time, and I deeply appreciate your friendship. It has been a pleasure to serve in the Cabinet together and to develop a different type of relationship – one as colleagues. I admire your devotion to our country; your lifetime of leadership in foreign affairs is simply unparalleled. For this Administration, you have worked tirelessly on a myriad of issues, from our negotiations with Iran to the recent conclusion of the Trans Pacific Partnership. And for me personally, you have been a constructive and supportive partner on a wide cross-section of issues. I am proud to know you as a good friend, a colleague, and, tonight, a fellow awardee.

To Vital Voices, thank you for working every day to empower women leaders and social entrepreneurs worldwide, to combat violence against women and girls, and to equip women with the skills needed to build businesses, provide for their families, and create jobs in their communities. Last year, it was my privilege to join you in paying tribute to your third annual Diplomat of the Year awardee, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, and to share the Commerce Department’s vision for the use of commercial diplomacy as an essential tool of U.S. foreign policy.

In accepting this award tonight, I am delighted to have the opportunity to briefly revisit the core tenets of commercial diplomacy – and to discuss our initial progress in three critical countries on three separate continents: India, Tunisia and Ukraine.

During my more than two years in office, I have visited 33 countries. I have met with heads of state, economic ministers, and over 2,000 business leaders. From these experiences, I have observed three important constants that form the backbone for commercial diplomacy. First, people want economic freedom — the chance to earn a good living, start a business, and support a family. Second, foreign governments want American companies to invest in their countries, because U.S. firms create jobs, bring leading technologies, respect the rule of law, and invest in the communities where they are located. Third, foreign citizens want access to U.S. products and services. 

At the Commerce Department, we understand that these factors — the desire for economic opportunity mixed with the demand for American businesses and services — represent a tremendous opportunity for our private sector and our government to work together as partners in support of important policies and reforms.

From our earliest beginnings as a nation, we have always recognized the importance of partnerships in a global context. Benjamin Franklin once said, “There is a sanction like that of religion which binds us in…partnership in the serious work of the world.” In other words, he was saying we should devote ourselves to the critical work of partnership in the world with an almost duty-bound intensity. By bringing our public and private sectors together, commercial diplomacy applies the vital importance of partnership to the task of leveraging our economic power.

When and where the interests of business and government overlap – whether improving the rule of law, enhancing protection for trade secrets and intellectual property, or increase access in foreign markets – we have the capacity to deploy our commercial might in support of our strategic and diplomatic objectives. Together, this combination of business and government can be a powerful tool. Together, we have created new opportunities for American businesses abroad. Together, we have strengthened our country’s international economic leadership.

When business leaders advocate for broader private sector interests in meetings with foreign officials, they are often echoing the economic and commercial policy goals of our Administration. And they can paint a clear, tangible picture for foreign leaders of the economic benefits that will flow from smart reforms.

In markets around the world, we are putting our theory of commercial diplomacy to the test. Let me begin with India. When President Obama first visited New Delhi in 2010, he set forth his vision to make the U.S.-India relationship one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century. Our two countries are the world’s oldest and largest democracies. We share strong military, political, and diplomatic ties. Yet, despite Prime Minister Modi’s recent steps to strengthen India’s business climate and expand our ties of trade and investment, our nations’ commercial relationship simply has not lived up to its enormous potential. In fact, India, the second largest country and fastest-growing economy on the planet, is only America’s 11th largest trading partner and 18th largest export market.

Given the headwinds in the global economy, neither of us can afford this under-performance any longer. For the broader U.S.-India partnership to grow stronger, our economic ties cannot lag behind; commerce must be a foundational component of our relationship. Prime Minister Modi and President Obama appreciate that our economic futures are interconnected, which is why they challenged their economic teams to increase trade between our countries five-fold. 

To deliver on that ambitious goal, they established the U.S.–India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue, which Secretary Kerry and I co-chair, and we have permanently linked the reinvigorated U.S.-India CEO Forum to the S&CD. Reaching $500 billion in two-way trade will require the active participation of our private sectors. That is why we have given businesses – American and Indian – a platform to speak directly to and with senior representatives from each of our governments, as well as to hold us accountable for progress. That is commercial diplomacy in action.

Since sparking the Arab Spring in 2011, Tunisia has undergone a remarkable and historic political transition. The new Tunisian government overcame the threat of civil war and successfully established a constitutional system that guarantees basic fundamental rights for its entire population, including women and minorities.  This incredible progress, which was recently recognized by the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, is proof that democracy is not only possible but also necessary in North Africa and the Middle East. 

Tunisia’s success can be a beacon for the entire region; for that reason, helping the Tunisian government build a brighter future is a top strategic priority for the United States. Yet for the country’s political transformation to be sustained, Tunisia needs economic growth and its young people need opportunity. Indeed, promoting stability and creating economic growth are essential components of their ongoing fight against extremism.           

Since my visit to Tunis in March, with the support of our private sector, we have engaged President Caid Essebsi and Prime Minister Essid to focus on the need for economic reform. Last May, we convened 20 U.S. business executives at Blair House to discuss the reforms necessary for Tunisia to attract more American investment. Since then, Tunisia has implemented two critical measures: Legislation to recapitalize its two largest state-owned banks, and a new law to increase transparency, improve regulations, and strengthen its competition council.

Unquestionably, their government has a long way to go.  They still need to adopt a new investment code and pass an essential public-private partnerships law. Yet we remain convinced that Tunisia’s leaders are committed to traveling the difficult road of reform – and the U.S. government and U.S. businesses must and will continue to be part of the solution. 

The same is true for Ukraine, a country that remains under siege from its neighbor. Russia’s brazen attempt to redraw Europe’s borders and undermine the stability of a sovereign nation, including by attempting to create conditions that will cause an economic collapse, threatens the whole continent.  Neither the United States government nor the United States business community wants to see that cynical strategy succeed.  The emergence of a Ukraine that is independent, prosperous, democratic, and free from corruption is good for our country – and good for business. 

Perhaps more than any other example, our engagement with Ukraine is illustrative of the slow-but-steady progress we can make with commercial diplomacy. In September 2014, at President Obama’s request, I traveled to Kyiv to urge President Poroshenko and Prime Minister Yatsenyuk to address corruption and create a level playing field for all businesses. Our discussions led to the passing of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau through the Rada less than two weeks later, which sent a positive signal to outside investors.

In recognition of that progress and other measures, this past summer, the Department of Commerce convened the first-ever U.S.-Ukraine Business Forum in Washington. We were joined by Vice President Biden and Prime Minister Yatsenyuk. This event marked a critical opportunity for the Prime Minister and his government. It was an opportunity to share Ukraine’s progress on the path to reform with more than 150 Ukrainian and American business executives and government officials. It was an opportunity for business leaders to offer concrete recommendations to further improve Ukraine’s investment climate. It was an opportunity to demonstrate the constructive role the private sector can play in supporting Ukraine’s integration into the global economy, which will also enhance the country’s long-term political stability.

When I went to Kyiv last year, I delivered my message alone. Next week, I will return to Ukraine, at the request of President Poroshenko and Prime Minister Yatsenyuk, accompanied by senior U.S. business leaders. Together, we will talk specifically about what Ukraine can do to further attract trade and investment. Ukraine has a long way to go, but we will continue to work with and support Ukraine as the government tackles corruption and reforms its economy.

The fundamental fact about America’s global leadership in the 21st century is: we can no longer rely solely on our military strength, our strategic influence, or traditional diplomatic tools to advance our interests and values around the world. We must use every resource at our disposal. We must deploy every tool in our foreign policy toolkit. We must adopt a more multi-dimensional approach to building, sustaining, and strengthening our relationships with allies and partners. And commercial diplomacy must continue to be a top priority. 

In countries like India, Tunisia, and Ukraine, we are making progress. We are seeing that a vibrant partnership between our government and our businesses can play a critical role in deepening our commercial relationships; shaping a well-functioning international economic order; and promoting a future of peace and prosperity for communities across the globe. Once again, thank you for this award, and congratulations to my fellow honorees. 

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