Remarks in Abu Dhabi on First Leg of Middle East Trade Mission

By:  Penny Pritzker
Date: March 9, 2014
Location: Abu Dhabi, AE

Thank you, Matt. It is great to meet you after hearing so much about you from Ross and our mutual friends in the United States. I want to thank our co-sponsors: the United States--United Arab Emirates Business Council, the United States Chamber of Commerce, AmCham Abu Dhabi, and the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce & Industry. All of you play key roles in building a strong trade and investment relationship between our two nations. Thank you.

I have seen the US-UAE relationship grow first-hand. Over the past decade, I have traveled to Dubai and Abu Dhabi multiple times in my capacity as a business leader and also with my family on vacation. And today, I am thrilled to be here as the United States Secretary of Commerce. Our business delegation has been in Abu Dhabi for just 24 hours and we have already experienced a very warm welcome. Thank you.

This is only my second trade mission. We prioritized this region because the Obama Administration puts a high value on America's relationship with the Gulf. And, of course, there are enormous commercial opportunities for American companies here. The level of interest from U.S. companies to join us on this mission was overwhelming. In fact, 80 companies in the infrastructure and energy sectors applied, and we had to whittle down the attendees to a delegation of 21.

Due to the bridges that all of you have built, America's commercial and economic relationship with the UAE has never been stronger. Looking back, our bilateral friendship reaches all the way back to the UAE's founding. The United States was just the third country in the world to establish formal diplomatic relations with the UAE after it became an independent country in 1971. In the decades since, we have supported each other in countless ways.For example, the Obama Administration is supporting the UAE's efforts to upgrade its F-16s and buy 30 new F-16s. As well, we have approved sales of sophisticated missile defense systems. Clearly, the United States and the UAE share a commitment to preserving security and stability throughout the Gulf and that commitment will not change even as the United States becomes more energy independent. In fact, America has a growing interest in making sure that oil markets throughout the world remain stable and well-supplied.

Beyond our security cooperation, our citizens themselves can see first-hand the depth of our friendship -- in very concrete ways. For example, in 2012, your dynamic Ambassador, Yousef Al Otaiba, came to my hometown of Chicago to dedicate a new public soccer field. The field was a gift from the UAE Embassy and the Manchester City Football Club in partnership with my family's foundation and the Chicago Park District, where my husband serves as President of the board. The mayor, hundreds of families, and youth soccer teams from the local community attended the celebration. And I must say it has been a very good investment by the UAE if judged by the daily use of the field.

And there are many more examples of the generosity of the UAE. After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the UAE provided substantial funding to help thousands of families as well as local colleges. After a tornado devastated Joplin, Missouri, the UAE provided laptops for high school students, helped a hospital rebuild, and volunteers even came from the UAE to help on the ground. And in the heart of America's capital -- Washington, DC -- the Sheikh Zayed Institute at Children's National Medical Center has provided innovative surgical care for children from both of our countries thanks to the generosity of the Government of Abu Dhabi.

But perhaps the most exciting and dynamic aspect of the US-UAE relationship is our vibrant commercial and economic ties. Business leaders throughout the world have woken up to the fact that the UAE is a powerful regional and global hub for commerce. The UAE ranks 26th in the World Bank's "Ease of Doing Business" rankings. The UAE is home to dozens of free trade zones. The UAE's leadership in logistics, tourism, and business services -- to name just a few -- is world-renowned. The UAE has become a magnet for hosting global conferences and trade shows. And, the UAE is viewed as one of the most stable places to do business in the entire Middle East.

Given these facts, it is no surprise that more than 1,000 American firms have established a presence in this country, including some of America's hottest young startups. A quick example: In 2010, a few friends in San Francisco, California, had the idea to build a mobile app called Uber. The app allows customers to order a taxi on their smartphones instead of trying to hail a cab on the street. Because of its innovative business model which bridges technology with a traditional service, Uber quickly spread throughout the United States. Over the past year, the company expanded to Abu Dhabi and Dubai -- creating jobs for local drivers who are Uber's partners. Uber is just one example of many entrepreneurs and companies from the United States realizing the vast potential of doing business in the Gulf. Of course, this includes the 21 companies on our trip.

Due to the high level of interest in doing business here, our overall trade relationship is thriving. Since 2009 -- when President Obama launched the National Export Initiative -- U.S. exports to the UAE have more than doubled (increasing by 111 percent). For the past 5 years, the UAE has been the largest U.S. export market in the region. Last year, our exports jumped 9 percent to nearly $25 billion -- with strong demand for transportation equipment, computers, electronics, machinery, metals, renewable energy technologies, and large-scale infrastructure.

We saw a powerful example of our blossoming trade ties last November at the Dubai Air Show. American firms announced the largest series of contracts in commercial aviation history. More than $100 billion dollars in U.S. aircraft and engines are heading to the UAE and Qatar over the course of the next decade (including Boeing planes to Abu-Dhabi-based Etihad). On behalf of the U.S. government and our companies, let me say this very clearly: Thank you for your business.

At the same time that we see big deals happening, the Commerce Department is also seeing a new wave of small businesses that are exporting to the UAE. In fact, 91 percent of the sales to the UAE that the Department supported last year were from small exporters -- and nearly two-thirds of those sales were from firms that were exporting to the UAE for the very first time, so we are just scratching the surface of our potential.

And we are certainly hoping to do more business this week. Our trade mission will lead to more mutually-beneficial partnerships -- and we are not wasting any time. In fact, we already had two fruitful meetings this morning. First, our delegation visited the offices of Mubadala, an organization I first met in 2008 as a director of Hyatt Hotels. As you know, Mubadala is now investing heavily in the future of Abu Dhabi -- with infrastructure efforts underway in areas such as renewable energy, educational facilities, transportation, and logistics. American companies are already partnering with Mubadala to help Abu Dhabi grow and diversify its economy -- including GE, who is with us on this mission. And I am confident that even more partnerships will flow from this morning's meeting.

Second, the delegation visited the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority which serves roughly 40 percent of the UAE's population. The Authority is working to expand its capacity to serve the Emirates. We discussed how American businesses on the trade mission might be able to support Abu Dhabi as its population continues to grow.

American businesses are eager to partner with governments and industry here on infrastructure and transportation projects, and to help build a bright future for Abu Dhabi and the UAE. In addition to what I already mentioned, this includes: Etihad Railway's national rail system; the Abu Dhabi Department of Transportation's urban rail project; alternative energy and smart-grid systems here; and, the development of the Saadiyat Island cultural district.

Simply put, American businesses have the know-how to assist the UAE in achieving its vision of becoming an even more powerful global hub for business.

Let me be clear: This trade mission is not a one-time push. Instead, this is the continuation of a long and fruitful partnership that began decades ago, and will extend for decades to come as the businesses on our trade mission become part of the fabric of the UAE economy. And I am pleased to know that the UAE leadership also takes a long-term view. For example, transformative infrastructure and economic development plans are part of Abu Dhabi Vision 2030 -- which is investing $90 billion dollars through 2017 in key projects. With Abu Dhabi's population set to more than double in just 15 years, businesses from both our countries can help this emirate fulfill its potential as it moves toward a diversified, knowledge-based economy.

Similarly, U.S. firms want to ensure the success of Dubai's World Expo in 2020. This includes $36 billion in infrastructure and $7 billion dollars for facilities. This event is a powerful opportunity to help Dubai build a long-term foundation for growth. American businesses involved in infrastructure want to help Dubai prepare for the event, as well as participate in the event itself.

And while American businesses are actively exploring these opportunities to partner with the UAE, our government-to-government relationship is moving forward on a parallel track. For example, we are working to address standards issues in areas ranging from green buildings, to auto safety and emissions.We are continuing to work with the UAE officials on intellectual property protection by combating counterfeits and addressing copyright issues. We are working together on export controls which strengthen security and international trade for both of our countries. And, we are helping build a legal environment where entrepreneurs can test ideas and innovation in the marketplace. It is crucial that entrepreneurs have the ability to try -- fail -- and try again.

Given all of these growing ties, I believe that we are at a point in our relationship where we can explore additional areas for collaboration between the United States and the United Arab Emirates. I will offer three suggestions of where we should focus.

First, we can build on the UAE's advantage as a platform for American firms to do business throughout the Middle East, in Africa, and in South Asia.Today, an increasing number of U.S. firms are building regional headquarters and operations centers here in the UAE. In fact, we are now seeing joint manufacturing facilities here -- in which American products are finished and shipped to third markets. This type of economic cooperation is a clear win-win arrangement for our two nations -- and we should do all we can to support this trend.

Second, we can broaden the scope of our investment relationship. We will continue to support American investors who find growth opportunities in the UAE -- and we can work together to address any concerns they might have. At the same time, the UAE is now the 19th largest source of foreign direct investment into the United States with $21 billion in total stock. For example, Mubadala has invested $6 billion dollars in a semiconductor fabrication facility in New York -- Global Foundries -- and recently made a commitment for $8 billion more.

To assist more investors from countries like the UAE, President Obama established America's first federal effort to support inbound investment -- called SelectUSA which is run by the Commerce Department. We want to connect those investors to the resources and assets that the United States has to offer -- namely our universities, our large consumer base, and our research and development hubs, and our supply chains.

And third, we must work harder to ensure a bright future for the next generation of Americans and Emiratis. After all, our young people will be responsible for building our commercial and economic ties throughout the 21st century. We have much work to do in this regard. We should increase the number of educational and entrepreneurial opportunities for our youth. I am pleased to hear that New York University is expanding to open a new, bigger campus in Abu Dhabi this year. And I -- personally -- am chairing a group called the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship -- whose mission is to inspire more startups around the world. As a serial entrepreneur who launched five companies, I am particularly excited about this effort.

At the same time, we should also provide good, quality healthcare to help our citizens live longer, fuller lives -- and our nations are collaborating in this area. For example, I know from my friend Toby Cosgrove that the Cleveland Clinic is opening a new state-of-the-art hospital in Abu Dhabi in the coming year.

And finally, we should protect our environment by jointly investing in areas such as renewable energy and energy efficiency. Several companies on my trade mission -- FirstSolar, AREVA Solar, SolarReserve, and ZeroWaste -- are experts in renewable energy. In fact, I plan to see FirstSolar's project in the region first-hand when we are in Dubai.

In sum, I believe that we are at a truly exciting moment in the history of the relationship between the United States and the United Arab Emirates. Over the past four decades, we have worked hard to build strong bridges between our nations. And, as we look to the next 40 years, I predict that our businesses and our citizens will uncover many new and positive ways to deepen our friendship. As a business person, I believe that leaders like you play a vital role in ensuring stability and providing much-needed economic opportunities for millions of people. This is our moment to develop our relationships and think big about our future together. Fundamentally, that is what this trade mission is all about.

Again, I want to thank our hosts for their warmth in welcoming our delegation -- a delegation that embraces the potential for mutually-beneficial partnerships between the United States and Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, and the entire Gulf region. Please do not hesitate to introduce yourself to our talented, accomplished, and yes -- friendly -- business leaders. They are not shy.

Thank you all for your wonderful welcome. All of us in the Obama Administration look forward to building an even more powerful and dynamic relationship between the seven United Arab Emirates and the 50 United States in the days, months, and years ahead. Thank you.