Well, good morning, everyone, and it is once again a great pleasure and honor for me to join you for this year's AGOA Forum. It gives us the opportunity every year to look back on what our countries have achieved together, and all that still needs to be done as we move forward.
I want to thank Assistant Secretary Carson for his leadership and passion about not only Africa, but the relationship between Africa and the United States. I've had the great personal pleasure of knowing him now for about 15, 17 years, and seeing him in action. And I was so pleased when he accepted my request to come and lead our efforts here at the State Department. I'm also delighted that we've been joined by Ambassador Ron Kirk, who leads our efforts at the United States Trade Representative's Office and has been a tireless advocate of making AGOA even better.
And to all my colleagues across our government, I thank them for their participation. I also wish to acknowledge and thank Prime Minister Ahoussou of Cote d'Ivoire for joining us today. I'm pleased that we also have the Zambian Minister of Commerce and Trade, Minister Sichinga, who was our host last year, as well as other government ministers, members of the business community, representatives from civil society from nearly 40 African countries.
Now I want to begin by thanking you for traveling to the United States for this week's events here in Washington and next week's in Cincinnati. We are very grateful for your commitment to making AGOA and our economic partnership as strong and successful as it can be. I cannot promise you, however, that you will have as much fun as I did in Nairobi and Lusaka. In Nairobi, unfortunately, because of social media, we did some dancing -- (laughter) -- which made clear to everyone I needed more practice. (Laughter.) In Lusaka, we did some singing, which also made the same point. But it was such a great honor for me to represent our country, the Obama Administration, at both of the AGOA forums held in Africa during my time as Secretary of State.
I well remember when, during my husband's administration, the United States passed the African Growth and Opportunity Act. We believed that the countries of Africa had enormous untapped economic potential that could and should be developed. We shared a vision with many of you of a future in which economic growth in Africa would fuel growth and prosperity worldwide; trade and investment would multiply, both within Africa and between Africa and other regions; and people across the continent would have new opportunities to start their own businesses, earn higher salaries, improve their lives, and lift the fortunes of their families and communities.
Now at the time, some thought this vision was a fantasy. I remember very well making the argument to members of Congress who were not convinced but felt that it would be worth trying, but that it was a dream that would take decades, maybe generations, to come true. Well, just look at Africa today: one of the fastest growing regions in the world; home to six -- soon to be seven -- of the world's 10 fastest growing economies. In the past decade, trade between Africa and the rest of the world has tripled, private foreign investment has surpassed official aid, and it will surely keep rising. Because -- and I want all of my fellow American citizens, particularly our business community, to hear this -- Africa offers the highest rate of return on foreign direct investment of any developing region in the world. (Applause.) In fact, it is the only developing region where the growth rate is expected to rise this year. The middle class is growing. Consumer spending is increasing. Urban centers are becoming vital economic hubs.
Well, we in the United States like to talk about ourselves as the country that is the land of opportunity. It's a point of national pride. Well, in the 21st century, Africa is the continent that is the land of opportunity. And I salute all of you who have contributed to this progress. (Applause.) Here amongst us, we have entrepreneurs who have helped new businesses get off the ground, government leaders who have worked to create the political stability and regulatory environment that sustained economic growth requires, civil society leaders who have reached out into your communities to connect people with training, jobs, and other skills so that they too can be part of this new wave of opportunity.
We are also proud of how AGOA has contributed to this progress. Last year, imports from AGOA countries were more than six times as high as they were 10 years ago. And AGOA has helped promote not just oil, but value-added exports, including apparel, manufactured goods, and agricultural products. It's led to new jobs, the rise of new sectors, and new business opportunities for people in every country represented here as well as the United States.
But progress does not guarantee success, and our charge is to keep the progress going to achieve success. We believe there is still a great deal more potential for trade and investment among our countries, and there is certainly a lot of room for every country here to grow even faster and more.
Now I realize that the matter of renewing AGOA is on many people's minds right now, and renewing the Third Country Multi-Fiber provision is even more urgent. It is vital to textile manufacturers across the continent and has widespread business support here in the United States. Please know that the State Department is working closely with the USTR's Representative's Office, with our partners in Congress, to accelerate this process, and I have every confidence that we will see AGOA's Third Country Multi-Fiber provision renewed.
But in the meantime, we have our own work to do. At the AGOA Forum last year in Zambia, I said that the question we need to ask ourselves is not whether we can do more to fulfill our economic potential, because of course we can. The question is: Will we? Will we learn from all that we have already accomplished together? Will we look honestly at what we all must do better? Will we then work together to improve? This isn't a one-time question. It's a challenge we must continually pose to ourselves and each other if we want to see the economic potential of this partnership continue to grow.
I want to just mention a few areas that I believe deserve our attention.
One is the focus of this year's forum: infrastructure development. This is something I hear about frequently from my counterparts in the region, as well as from business people looking to invest in Africa: It is still much harder to do business than it should be because the right infrastructure is still not in place. I mean both physical infrastructure, like roads, ports, modern power grids, and regulatory infrastructure, like how easy it is to register a new business or get a construction permit. We've heard some numbers today about how burdensome it can be just to ship goods from one country to the country next door.
I know everybody wants roads, and we want to see more roads. But I want people to start thinking about the importance of the regulatory infrastructure. It's just as critical as the physical infrastructure. Now, many countries are focused on this and taking steps, taking a hard look at corruption, for example, that impedes healthy trade and investment. And some are making key investments in regional infrastructures by building, for example, regional transportation corridors that promote more economic integration, an issue I have mentioned frequently in my conversations with you at AGOA. There's so much more potential for the people of Africa to trade and invest more with each other, and I know this is a priority for many of you as well.
We're also working together to help improve energy infrastructure. Earlier this year, Assistant Secretary Carson led an energy trade mission to four countries in Africa to identify ways that the United States can help improve the power supply, since lack of reasonably priced, reliable power is a significant constraint on economic growth.
And next week in Cincinnati, the U.S.-Africa Business Conference will focus on how to leverage public and private sector resources and channel them toward infrastructure improvements. We will match African and American firms working in the energy, transportation, water, and sanitation sectors.
So there is progress underway, and we have to keep the momentum going.
The third kind of infrastructure is what we could call the human infrastructure, how to give people the chance to contribute. Yesterday, I met with this group of 62 young entrepreneurs from 40 African countries who are here for an innovation summit. At a time when 60 percent of the people of Sub-Saharan Africa are under 25, and millions of them are out of work, there has to be a concerted effort by all of us to help equip these young people, to support them, because our economies and our societies need their talents, their energy, and their ideas.
The same is true for women. Here today are participants in the African Women's Entrepreneurship Program, or AWEP, a State Department program that supports the professional development of women who run small and medium-size businesses across Africa. They are here for three weeks to explore opportunities for partnership, develop their skills, and build their professional networks.
Let me share just one story of these women. Comfort Adjahoe is here with us from Ghana. Comfort, where are you? Where are you, Comfort? Way back there. She manages a shea butter production and export company called Ele Agbe. It started small, but it's not small any more. Today Comfort employs -- listen to this -- Comfort employs -- that attractive woman right back there -- 5,000 small-holder farmers in northern Ghana and 300 employees in Accra. (Applause.)
Now, she is a vivid example, but she is by far not the only example of how women can be powerful drivers of economic growth and how, by supporting women entrepreneurs, there can be a multiplier effect across economies. That's why I personally, the State Department, and the United States are strong supporters of women's economic empowerment, not only in Africa but worldwide. To that end, I'm pleased to announce a new partnership between AWEP and Intel, the Exxon Mobil Foundation, the NGO called Vital Voices, and the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women to give women more access to digital literacy training, business training, and professional mentoring.
Through programs like AWEP and the partnerships made possible by AGOA, we can see economic transformation with our own eyes. And in fact, we are taking what we've learned from the work with many of you and elsewhere in the world to bring it to a new level, because today is not only the 11th AGOA Forum; I've also designated it the first Global Economic Statecraft Day, because we are elevating economic issues as a key element of our foreign policy. Our diplomats are engaging more on economic matters worldwide because we all know economic forces are increasingly shaping our world and our economies will be more and more interdependent.
In honor of Global Economic Statecraft Day, our Embassy in Nairobi is hosting Kenyan firms that are, quote, "export-ready," to start them on the process of exporting to the United States. Our Embassy in Gaborone is bringing together entrepreneurs, young professionals, and business school students to kick off a new network of future business leaders for Botswana. Our Embassy in Abidjan is convening a roundtable of business people to begin rebuilding the American Chamber of Commerce, which was shut down during the post-electoral unrest, because encouraging private investment in Cote d'Ivoire and across Africa is a key to our global economic statecraft agenda.
Those are just three of the nearly 250 events happening in 130 different countries. Our goal with them is the same one that brings us together in AGOA, to work as partners to promote growth and prosperity so more people can contribute to and benefit from our countries' economic ties.
So, taking stock: Twelve years after AGOA went into effect, we have a good record of results. AGOA has helped to increase trade and investment and opened new doors of opportunity for millions of people. But we can and must do better by deepening our cooperation and improving our performance.
This is a priority for the United States. As you heard from Deputy National Security Adviser Michael Froman, earlier today President Obama signed a new Presidential Policy Directive on Sub-Saharan Africa. It's a continuation of a conversation President Obama began nearly three years ago in Ghana, about how our countries can work in partnership to reach shared goals, to solve challenges. President Obama believes so passionately that the future is here, and we can make a commitment knowing that it's not only about economic growth, but also democratic progress, improved security, development gains. Because all taken together, we will strengthen the security, the prosperity, and the democracies across Africa, and by doing so help to fulfill that dream of a future of peace, freedom, prosperity, and dignity for all Africans.
So thank you for believing in this vision. There are a few familiar faces here that have been on this journey with us for the past 12 years. Some of you even lobbied the Congress on behalf of AGOA. But whether you're a veteran of these efforts or someone new to what we are trying to do together, the United States will stand with you as your partner on the basis of mutual respect in order to make sure that the benefits that we see as so potentially achievable are available for you and particularly for the next generation.
Thank you all very much. (Applause.)