Remarks
Jose W. Fernandez
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs
Washington, DC
November 20, 2012


This video is available on YouTube with closed captions.

MS. JENSEN: Hi. Welcome to LiveAtState, the State Department’s interactive video, web-chat platform for engaging international media. I’m your host, Holly Jensen, and I’m delighted to welcome all of our guests joining us from around the world.

Today, I’m joined in the studio by Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs Jose Fernandez. And he will be taking your questions and speaking to you on the Global Entrepreneurship Summit and U.S. efforts to promote economic and business relationships around the globe.

Before I turn it over to Assistant Secretary Fernandez, I want to make a few housekeeping notes. At any time, if you would like to start asking your questions, you can do so by going to the lower left-hand portion of your screen and asking your questions in the window titled “Questions for State Department Official.” And if you lose connectivity and you want to email us your questions, you can do so by emailing them to Live@State.gov. And if you would like to continue this conversation today after the conclusion of our program, you can follow the State Department on Twitter by using the handle @StateDept. Or you can follow us by using the Twitter handle @EconEngage, and that’s @E-c-o-n-E-n-g-a-g-e.

And with that, I will turn it over to you, Assistant Secretary Fernandez. Thank you for joining us today.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Thank you for having me, Holly. It’s a pleasure to be here. Let me just start by saying that last week we hosted a Global Entrepreneurship preview of what’s being announced and what’s being – what will be held in Dubai next month. It will be the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. We’re expecting over a thousand entrepreneurs to converge in Dubai to talk about entrepreneurship. And I hosted a panel; the panel had three entrepreneurs from the U.S. and also from the Middle East. And the point of the panel was to talk about how we go about creating an enabling environment in order to foster entrepreneurship.

And one of the things that we learned – well, a couple of things that we learned – one was the employment gap and the youth (inaudible) that exists in the Middle East, where you have 30-plus percent unemployment among young people in the Middle East, there are countries where the more educated that you are, the more likely you are to be unemployed. And entrepreneurship is one of the tools that governments have to create jobs and to create opportunities.

And so we talked about enabling a policy environment that will allow entrepreneurship to foster. And I was able to announce a couple of really new and interesting programs. One was an interactive web resource hosted by the Atlantic Council that will connect entrepreneurs in North Africa, in the Maghreb, and will do three things: number one, match entrepreneurs with mentors; secondly, create a crowd-funding resource; and thirdly, to put together potential investors and have them talk to potential entrepreneurs in the Maghreb. And we’re really excited about that.

We also announced that as part of our promotional efforts to promote the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, we awarded a prize to one contestant who wrote an essay on entrepreneurship. His name is Mohammad Abu Musa, and Mohammad, from Jordan, Mohammad wrote an essay on promoting entrepreneurship for women. And I’ll – I’m delighted to say that Mohammad will be going to Dubai, and I’ll be looking forward to meeting him there.

MS. JENSEN: Great. I know you discussed this a little bit, but what were some of your key takeaways from last week’s celebration of entrepreneurship at the White House?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Well, number one is how interested people are about entrepreneurship, especially young people. They see it as a tool to create new jobs to promote opportunity. If you’ve got a great idea, it doesn’t really matter where you come from, as long as you have the opportunity to make your idea a reality. And so we had over 125 entrepreneurs from – mostly from the U.S., but also from around the world, and we talked about a couple of things that governments can do, in my panel at least.

Number one: How do governments go about minimizing red tape? How do you create the regulatory environment to promote entrepreneurship? Secondly, what can governments do to train entrepreneurs to get that skills gap reduced? How do you get access to capital if you’re an entrepreneur? In some ways, the easiest thing is to get a good idea. But then you’ve got to find people who will believe in that idea and will want to invest. And so access to capital is something that we talked about a lot.

And lastly, something that I think in the U.S. we take for granted, and that is that in order to create entrepreneurship, it’s got to be acceptable to fail. In Silicon Valley in California and other places in the U.S. where we have lots of entrepreneurs, every entrepreneur has failed once, twice, three times. They just get up and they try to create a new company. And so creating the policy environment, creating the culture that will make it acceptable for someone to just fail the first time, but just get up and try again, is something that we also talked about. And that, to me – those were four of the takeaways from last week.

MS. JENSEN: And what’s the U.S. Government doing to promote entrepreneurship overseas?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Well, we’ve got a number of programs. Ultimately, entrepreneurship is something that’s homegrown. So you’re going to have to have people interested in entrepreneurship. But what we can do in the U.S. is we can bring entrepreneurs together, entrepreneurs from the U.S. with entrepreneurs from the Middle East and other parts of the world. We can provide access to investors; we can provide training sessions.

For example, last year in Morocco for the NAPEO Entrepreneurship Forum, we had 10 sessions on – training sessions for entrepreneurs. We had over 100 trainers – people who talked about how do you put together a business plan, how do you make a pitch to investors, how do you create a workforce that will be interested in entrepreneurship. All these are things that we can do. We’ve got a culture in the U.S. of entrepreneurship; it’s something that the rest of the world typically wants to learn about, hear from the U.S. And so we can just talk about what we’ve done here. Although, ultimately entrepreneurship, again, will have to be homegrown.

MS. JENSEN: I just want to remind you that if you have any questions, you can start to ask them now in the lower left-hand portion of your screen, titled “Questions for State Department Official.”

Can you tell us: Why is entrepreneurship good for a country’s economy?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Well, look, it’s about jobs, it’s about opportunity, and it’s about young people, in many ways. In this country, small and medium countries create most of the jobs. That’s the same thing around the world, including in the Middle East and North Africa. Opportunity – if you’ve got a good idea, you ought to be able to have the opportunity to make that idea into a business. And so entrepreneurship is about creating a regulatory environment that will allow those kinds of small new companies with new technologies to foster and providing the capital that they need in order to make those companies a reality.

And third, young people want to create new websites, want to create new technologies. And that typically is done through entrepreneurship, and in the part of the world where you’ve got a large portion of young people are unemployed or underemployed, entrepreneurship provides an opportunity for those people to create their new business, to employ others, and to do what they have to do in order to grow their economies.

MS. JENSEN: So why does the State Department and the U.S. Government in general care about promoting entrepreneurship in other countries?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Well, ultimately, at the end of the day what the U.S. likes – wants to do is to promote economic growth and social inclusion. And that – entrepreneurship is all about that. Again, creating jobs, creating new companies – those are things that entrepreneurship does. Because our best partners are countries with growing economies that can provide for their people, that can provide jobs, and that’s something that entrepreneurship helps to do.

It’s not the only – it’s not a silver bullet. It’s part of many other things. It requires the right regulatory policies; it requires the right opportunity for women, for young people, and others. But it’s part of what we want to do because our best partners are economically stable partners.

MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Syed Asif Ali, from News 1 TV in Islamabad: Secretary, can you please explain Silk Road vision, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Central Asian states, and so on, and its timeframe in your mind for this?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Well, there’s a lot to talk about with the New Silk Road vision. It was announced – Secretary Clinton began discussing it last year when she went to India. And basically the New Silk Road is an economic and an international transit network to link Central and South Asian countries together. That’s basically one-fifth of the world’s population. And this is – these are countries that in the past haven’t been as linked as they could have been in order to grow their economies.

This is an idea that’s already taking root. You’ve got India and Pakistan that have moved to normalize trade and economic ties. And there you’re talking about a $10 billion increase in trade and investment in those two countries. There’s been a recent agreement signed by Bangladesh to have its goods be able to go through India in order to move to other parts of the region. Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan have formalized a cross-border transport agreement.

So it’s basically the New Silk Road. What it tries to do is to integrate the economies of the South and Central Asian countries together in order to grow them. And it’s an idea that’s been around for centuries, but I think the time has come to make it a reality.

MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Blset Ibrahim from CNN Arabic: What plans do you have for Arab Spring countries which involve youth entrepreneurship?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Well, that’s a great question. As I’ve mentioned, there are many reasons, there are many causes for the Arab Spring. One of them, obviously, is the desire for human dignity, the desire to – for people to have opportunities and to have jobs and to be able to fulfill their potential.

But another is simply the lack of employment, the lack of economic growth that will allow young people to have jobs and to see themselves having new careers in the future. Entrepreneurship is about creating new jobs, creating new technologies, but it also makes countries that want to foster entrepreneurship have to do certain things. They have to deal with the red tape, they have to provide the right regulatory environment, and they also have to be able to get women involved in the workforce, because in many countries in the Middle East and North Africa, women are some of our best entrepreneurs. We’ve had a couple of entrepreneurship contests that we have hosted around the world, and invariably, with few exceptions, women are most of our contestants, and they also, oftentimes, are the winners.

And so it’s our way of reaching and working with young people in the Middle East, and it’s our way to basically do what we’ve – what we say we want to do and basically put our money where our mouth is, and that is promoting entrepreneurship, promoting private enterprise in a way that will help create jobs.

MS. JENSEN: So this is a follow-up from Blset Ibrahim: What do you think about the plans which were made by the countries which witnessed the Arab Spring?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: The plans?

MS. JENSEN: That’s what it says.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Well, those plans obviously are still a work-in-progress. Many countries are still undergoing change and will – we’re likely to see that change continue. But as I – I’ve travelled to all of the countries, for the most part, of the Arab Spring – Tunisia, Libya, many, many others – and all of them realize that they have to create new opportunities, they have to grow their economies. And in Tunisia, they had 30 to 40 percent of young people unemployed. You had more unemployed educated – college-educated youth in Tunisia than non-college-educated youth unemployed in Tunisia. They realize that they’ve got to create the right skills, they’ve got to promote the right skills, they’ve got to find new sources of investment, they’ve got to create the conditions that will make foreign investment and domestic investors want to invest in their economy.

So those are their plans. And obviously, there are things that the U.S. can do, such as promoting investment in those countries, trade agreements, finding ways for more young people from those countries to study in the U.S. and elsewhere. So those are the kinds of things that we can do to promote the aspirations of the people in the Arab Spring who, in many ways, we can say are ongoing, and they will continue.

MS. JENSEN: So one more follow-up: What do you think about the policy which some Arab countries are applying to develop their economic situation, like Jordan and Egypt, as in raising the prices of fuel, and under the circumstances that they are facing?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Well, that – it’s – I’m not familiar with the – obviously, I have read about the efforts to lower the subsidies, but ultimately – in fuel and in other goods. But ultimately, every country has to decide how to apply its funding. It has to – if they have subsidies, they’ve got to have targeted subsidies. That means subsidies that will go to the people who need them as opposed to just everyone indiscriminately.

But ultimately, all these countries are looking for ways to attract more investment, to provide more opportunity, to create opportunities for trade, to bring in the kinds of technologies that will allow young people and others to be employed, to have educational alliances with other countries as well. And that’s a whole part of the economic growth. One of them obviously is to have the right macroeconomic policies that will allow those unfortunate who may not have as many opportunities to receive the kinds of subsidies that are needed, but otherwise, to be able to apply those funds and those subsidies in a targeted way.

MS. JENSEN: So are you doing anything in other regions of the world?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Oh, (inaudible). We are – we’ve got – on the entrepreneurship front, we have programs that are ongoing in Indonesia. We just had an entrepreneurship delegation in Ireland, of all places. Entrepreneurship is actually – it’s an American export, probably the easiest thing that I can talk about to many countries, the U.S. culture of entrepreneurship.

And in many countries, from Chile that are – that has embraced entrepreneurship, to parts of Africa, people want to know how we’ve done it. And sometimes we take it for granted in this country, but they want to know how you make it easier to create a company, how you make it easier to close a company if you fail, how people go about providing capital, how we’re able to have our workforce get the right skills to create new companies and new businesses. And that’s all part of entrepreneurship. And it’s not just the Middle East; it’s elsewhere – as I said, from Chile to Africa to Indonesia to Taiwan. And so we’re doing it in many, many places.

MS. JENSEN: Our next question is: What are you doing to help women start their own businesses?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: That’s been one of our main objectives in the last few years. Women in many places don’t have the same opportunities, obviously, that men do. And in many cases, it’s not just because– not only because they don’t get the right educational opportunities, but it’s also because in many countries, women don’t have the contacts. If they have a business, they don’t have the customers.

So for example, one of the programs that I’ve been very proud to be involved in is in Peru. And what we did in Peru, through an organization called WEConnect, was to have that organization train over a thousand women-owned businesses, businesses that were owned – majority-owned – by women in Peru, train them on marketing skills, employment skills, putting together business plans, dealing with customers. And then after they were trained and after they were certified, they were put together with customers. And we had U.S. companies such as Wal-Mart and others who agreed to buy a certain amount of products from these women-owned businesses.

And so we were able to not just train them and not just to put them in a position where they could succeed, but we were also able to help them to get the right – probably to do the hardest thing that any business has to do at the beginning, and that is to find customers, because we had companies that had agreed to buy from these women-owned entrepreneurs. And then we can keep doing that around the world. If we can find that alliance of educators, of businesspeople, and of companies that are willing to help small and medium-owned – medium women-owned businesses, I think we’ll be able to continue what we’ve sought in the last few years under Secretary Clinton’s leadership.

MS. JENSEN: I know you’re going to find this hard to believe, but this is our last question. (Laughter.) I understand that you were a key participant in the Maghreb Entrepreneurship Conference in January. What were some of your key takeaways from that conference?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: That was a great conference, and that – we had about 450 entrepreneurs from North – mostly from North Africa, from the Maghreb, but from other parts of the world as well. And what I found really, really striking in that conference was to see how borders were erased through entrepreneurship. We had entrepreneurs from Morocco and Algeria, for example, two countries that have a close border, exchanging business cards, putting together deals, making plans to create new companies. And so that energy, that sense of possibility, that sense that, as a region, they could do a lot more than they could do individually was something that I took away from that conference.

But also the desire of entrepreneurs to work with the U.S., to work with American universities, American business schools to find investors from the U.S. who were willing to invest in their companies. It was really the sense of possibility, both across the region but also with the U.S., as something that really stayed with me after that conference.

MS. JENSEN: Well, thank you for that. And that’s all the time we have for today. I would like to thank all of you for joining us. A full audio and video copy of today’s program will be available shortly for download. If you would like to get the latest information from the State Department, you can follow us on Twitter by using the handle @StateDept or @EconEngage. And if you would like more information on our 21st century statecraft and our economic dealings, you can visit our Facebook page. It’s www.facebook.com/EconBizEngage. We look forward to doing this again with you really soon.

MS. JENSEN: Zoran Jovanovski wants to know: Is there any change in the U.S. foreign policy regarding the current differences between the Republic of Macedonia and the Hellenic Republic? And how soon can we see Macedonia as a new NATO and EU member?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Right. Well, thank you very much for that question. That's an issue that we have worked to try to resolve. We know it's important for the relationship between Macedonia and Greece. And so that is an issue that comes up repeatedly when we meet with Greek or Macedonian officials. So it's something that we have been working hard to try to resolve, and which we remain committed to trying to resolve because it's important to the future of Europe to have Macedonia and Greece resolve this issue.

MS. JENSEN: Can you tell us what role will the U.S. play in the Colombian peace talks?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Well, thank you for that. We first send a message of well wishes to President Santos, who I understand had surgery, and we want him to have a speedy recovery. Our thoughts are with him, and we hope that he's doing well.

With regards to the negotiations, we support President Santos's efforts to try to bring a final peace to Colombia. The Colombian people are deserving of that. And we hope that the FARC will take this opportunity, finally lay down their arms, and allow the Colombian people to live in peace, to abandon their narco-trafficking ties, and to become integrated into Colombian political society.

But that's up to the Colombians. It is their negotiating initiative. It is something that they will carry out. The United States has and will support Colombia, as we have now through three administrations, starting with President Clinton through the President Bush Administration, now President Obama's Administration, working with presidents from President Pastrana to President Uribe to now President Santos.

So we are committed to a strong partnership with Colombia. This initiative could bring a peace that all of us would like to see. And again, it's up to the Colombian Government in terms of how it wants to conduct this, and we certainly thank also the Norwegian Government for its facilitating role and for trying to, again, encourage an end to this tragic, long-lasting, decades-long conflict in Colombia.

MS. JENSEN: I'd like to thank you all for all of your amazing questions today. That's all the time we have. There will be a full video and audio transcript available for your use and download shortly after the conclusion of today's program. If you'd like to get the latest information from the State Department, you can follow us on Twitter by using the handle @StateDept.

Thank you, and we look forward to doing this with you again soon.