February 6, 2023

U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit outcomes, by Jose W. Fernandez, Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment

Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and Environment Jose W. Fernandez
Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and Environment Jose W. Fernandez

MODERATOR:  Good afternoon to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub.  I would like to welcome our participants dialing in from across the continent and thank all of you for joining this discussion.  Today we are very pleased to be joined by U.S. Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and Environment Jose Fernandez.  Under Secretary Fernandez is with us today to discuss the outcomes of the recently concluded U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit.  He is speaking to us from Washington, D.C.   U.S. Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and Environment Jose Fernandez. Under Secretary Fernandez is with us today to discuss the outcomes of the recently concluded U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. He is speaking to us from Washington, D.C. 

We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from Under Secretary Fernandez, then we will turn to your questions.  We will try to get to as many of them as we can during the briefing. 

As a reminder, today’s call is on the record, and with that I will turn it over to the Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and Environment Jose Fernandez.   

UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ:  Good morning and good afternoon.  It’s a pleasure to be here, so thank you for joining me today.  It’s good to have the opportunity to speak to you as we reflect on the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit that took place last week.   

We had a busy week over the course of the summit, my team and I had productive discussions on how the U.S. and African nations can partner to tackle global challenges – challenges that affect us all.  And the foundation of all of this is partnership.  Partnership is a foundation of President Biden’s strategy for Africa because we know that we can’t address the challenges of our time without bringing everyone to the table.  That means government at every level, institutions, the private sector, and the African diaspora.   

Because when we talk about priorities like conservation, climate change, clean energy transition, supply chains, investment, entrepreneurship, and innovation, we need the full force of our collaboration to be successful because we’re not going to be able to tackle these challenges alone.   

As the President announced, the administration plans to invest at least $55 billion in Africa over the next three years, working closely with our Congress.  New investment and policy initiatives at the summit included the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the U.S. and the African Continental Free Trade Area Secretariat in order to promote equitable, sustainable, and inclusive trade – trade that will be continent-wide and the trade that will open up a $3.4 trillion market of 1.3 billion people.  That is a large market – it’s a huge market – and that’s what we intend to work on with this memorandum of understanding.   

The Millennium Challenge Corporation also announced its first regional compact, totaling $504 million, with the Government of Benin, and Niger, to support regional integration, trade, and cross-border collaboration in those two countries.  In addition, the Millennium Challenge Corporation announced that the Gambia and Togo are eligible to develop their first compacts, that Senegal is eligible to develop a regional compact, and that Mauritania is eligible to develop a threshold program.   

Then, on December 13th, Nigeria and Rwanda became the first African countries to sign the Artemis Accords.  The Artemis Accords are based on the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which were principles that advanced the safe, sustainable, and responsible exploration and use of outer space.   

During the week I also had productive discussions with public and private sector partners on strengthening critical minerals and battery supply chains that help grow our economies and tackle the climate crisis.  This work continues.  It continues to deepen collaboration to support diverse and secure critical mineral supply chains at all stages – not only on the mining side but also on the processing side.   

And to that end, I was pleased to join the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia – Presidents Tshisekedi and Hichilema – to sign a memorandum of understanding to demonstrate U.S. support for the DRC-Zambia cooperation agreement to build a processing plant on the DRC-Zambia border.  This is an agreement that’s going to develop an electric vehicle value chain to help reduce carbon emissions and also support global response to the climate crisis.  And the plan is to develop an EV battery supply chain that opens the door for U.S. and likeminded investors to keep more value added in Africa.   

I also spent some time and met with several of my counterparts from the DRC to continue our discussion on identifying ways to expand opportunities for sustainable economic development through the U.S.-DRC Sustainable Development Solutions Working Group that we established a couple of months ago, following Secretary Blinken’s trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Together we will continue to assess in this working group the environmental and social impacts of oil and gas exploration that will help achieve the DRC’s stated objective of ensuring that critical ecosystems are not damaged – are not damaged by potential extractive activities.   

We also discussed in every forum that we had how public-private partnerships can facilitate entrepreneurship and innovation.  This is important because with Africa’s large youthful population, we need to find ways to bolster these partnerships by engaging with the private sector, including a – we have a delegation planned to go to Ghana in February that was announced at the summit’s innovation gathering.  We also facilitate ecologically sound trade and investment between the U.S. and African nations, and advanced diplomacy and look for all ways to create growth, opportunity, and employment.  

So let me start where – let me end where we started.  As Secretary Blinken has said, the challenges and opportunities of the current moment are not just African issues or, frankly, just American issues.  They are global priorities, and we are committed to working hand in hand with African nations and institutions on these priorities.  We are not going to be able to move forward on them without the support of the African nations, without cooperating with the African nations.  And I think during the summit, we delivered on that goal and we will continue working hard to make it a reality going forward.  

So thank you and I look forward to your questions.   

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Under Secretary Fernandez.  We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s briefing.  To start we are going to read a question that was submitted in advance from Mr. Andualem Sisay Gessesse from New Business Ethiopia.  He asks, “Can you please mention the major investment areas and countries in Africa in which the U.S. businesses have shown interest during the summit?”  And he also adds, “Historically, as we all know, U.S. and Africa relations are related more to humanitarian assistance and other strategic support such as helping African countries to counter terrorism, illegal fishing, et cetera.  Can we say now the U.S. Government is keen to move from aid to boosting trade with Africa and increase investments?” 

UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ:  Thank you.  Thank you for your question.  Look, we, working with Congress, we announced plans to commit at least $55 billion – $55 billion – to Africa over the next three years across a wide range of sectors to tackle the core challenges of our time.  I’m not going to get into the specifics of each program; we’d be here all morning.  But they involve a wide range of sectors that reflect our shared interest and renewed partnerships – sectors such as food security, health, climate, trade and investment, economic growth, and also education, peace and security, and democracy.  I don’t – and goals that are essential if we are going to achieve inclusive and wide-ranging growth in the region, in Africa, together.   

This is an assistance that’s expected to build on the U.S.’s engagement – longstanding engagement – in the development, economic growth, health and security in Africa over the last three decades, but it also – it also aims to leverage the best of America that we have to offer: our civil society, our private sector, our government institutions, in order to partner with African countries to meet today’s defining challenges and opportunities.  And that, again, it’s essential to create a baseline to continue growth.   

I hear your question on the – on historically U.S. and African relations being related more to humanitarian assistance, but I – our companies have been involved in Africa for decades, and many have done quite well in several sectors: consumers, mining and the like.  And also, let’s, as we talk about U.S.-Africa relations, let’s not forget something that we are very proud of, and that’s our PEPFAR program, a program that to this day has – is considered by many to be the most successful AIDS program ever.  It’s a program that today over 5 million babies have been born HIV-free.  We have more than 20 million women, men, and children living on lifesaving treatments.  It’s something that we are very proud of, and it’s – it is a program that we will continue because health, as we’ve discovered with the pandemic, the COVID pandemic, is something that we need to continue and it is a requirement, it is a baseline for growth.   

So we see a robust partnership both on the economic side but also on the humanitarian side as being essential to what we do.  But we did not limit our involvement or our work at the summit on humanitarian areas; we also signed a historic memorandum of understanding with the new African Continental Free Trade Area Secretariat.  It’s – this MOU will unlock new opportunities for trade and investment between our countries, and also bring African countries and the U.S. even closer than ever.  And I could go on, but we have a number of programs such as Prosper Africa, such as the Mineral Security Partnership, programs in entrepreneurship that we discussed during the summit and that we will work to make a reality going forward.   

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  We also received a question out of Niger from Mr. Issa Moussa from the Niger Times, who asks, “The U.S. Government is about to collaborate with African enterprises.  Could you explain how this is going to involve all domains?  Or are there some requirements to fulfill in order to obtain financial support?” 

UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ:  Thank you for the question.  It’s a very good question.  Look, we have resolved to enhance our collaborations to promote inclusive growth and sustainable development.  We are working to bring together business and government leaders to advance two-way trade and accelerate investment in quality infrastructure.  This means leveraging our institutions, our programs, in addition to strengthening enabling environments.  Institutions, programs that enable enabling environments require some basics, and those are not conditions; they’re just mutual goals of both our African brothers and as well as our own private sector.  That includes the rule of law, a level playing field; that includes transparency; it includes the ability of companies to be confident about their investments.   

And so we are – we will continue to work both on those issues as well as bringing private sector and boosting public-private partnerships.  And one example is the one I mentioned earlier, is the partnership opportunity delegation that we are sponsoring going to Ghana in the first half of February of next year.  And the idea there is to cultivate and enable collaboration and partnership opportunities between the U.S. private sector and West Africa’s climate, innovation, and entrepreneurship ecosystem.  This is an announcement that the Secretary made during the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, and it underscores the steps that the U.S. and African nations are taking to strengthen partnerships that advance shared priorities.   

I also – during the week I spent a fair amount of time with U.S. institutional investors: pension funds that have – that would like to invest in Africa, and we spent time talking about conditions in Africa like the investment climate, rule of law, transparency.  Because they are looking for opportunities, and I think it’s not a question of conditions; it’s a question of just creating the type of environment that attracts investment – investment that is out there and that I believe together we can unlock.   

MODERATOR:  Thank you so much.  We have a question submitted in advance, and it’s in sync a bit with the question also in the Q&A.  It’s from Tom Quinn from Investing in African Mining.  He asks – he says, “Mr. Under Secretary, congratulations on a successful summit.  Can you update us on progress made during the summit on supply partnerships and security of supply for critical minerals from Africa to power the energy transition?”   

And there is also a question in our Q&A from Zambia that talks about the Zambia-DRC agreements, asking, “What is the role the U.S. is playing in this agreement, and if the Zambian people would have a chance at some point to see that agreement?”  Thank you.    

UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ:  Thank you.  Thank you for the question.  Critical minerals is an area where – that we have been devoting lots of attention to.  And this is a great opportunity for many African nations to partner and become involved and to benefit from the energy transition.  We know that in order to reach the clean energy future that we are all aiming for, we are going to need to multiply exponentially the amount of certain critical minerals that we have today.  So, for example, the studies tell you that we will need six times – six times the lithium that we use today if we are going to reach by 2050 our goals, our clean energy goals.   

A lot of these minerals are in African countries.  A lot of these minerals we have interest in many, many countries to become involved in the mining and in the processing of these minerals in a way that benefits African societies not only by mining, but also in the value added, what’s called the downstream side of things – creating what the DRC and Zambia would like to create, processing plants and downstream facilities in their countries so that not only are you mining the lithium or the cobalt, you’re actually processing it and you are transforming it.  That’s important.  That keeps a lot of the profits in country.  It creates good jobs.  It creates more opportunities in rural (inaudible) innovation.   

That is something we will continue to do, and through the Mineral Security Partnership we will do that, and this is, I believe, our calling card.  We call – to us it’s what we offer, and that is following the highest environmental, social, and governance principles out there.  We will not engage in a race to the bottom.  U.S. companies will follow the ESG principles they follow at home, and that is something that we believe will separate our companies from those of others. 

In the case – in the specific case of the Zambia-DRC memorandum of understanding, we signed it to formalize our assistance of an agreement that had already been signed, recently signed, between those two countries to develop an electric vehicle supply chain.  They signed it back in March.  Again, this is exactly what we aim to do is promote value-added industries in Africa.  It’s a tremendous opportunity for countries that are home to concentrations of energy resources and minerals, and it’s also an opportunity for our companies to become involved.  Transparent, predictable, secure, sustainable supply chains for critical minerals are vital to ensure these technologies are deployed at the speed and skill necessary to effectively combat climate change.  

But the bottom line is this is a perfect example of the opportunities for partnership that exist between our companies and African nations, and we will do all that we can to support these opportunities and do it in a way that adhere to the highest environmental, social, and governance standards.  Thank you.  

MODERATOR:  Thanks.  Our next question came in from Zambia, from Mr. Nicky Mutoka of Bakwetu TV.  He asks, “Do we expect the American markets to open up its doors to African SMEs intending to export its various commodities on relaxed terms?  Which commodities will be allowed into the United States?” 

UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ:  Thank you for the question.  The African Growth and Opportunity Act was of great interest to our African colleagues, and we spent a fair amount of time discussing it.  As of today, we have 36 Sub-Saharan African countries that are eligible for the African Growth and Opportunity Act, AGOA.  AGOA is legislation passed by Congress in the year 2000, so 22 years ago, that offers almost 6,500 – 6,500 products duty-free access to U.S. markets.  A lot of these are small and medium enterprises, enterprises that can grow by leveraging AGOA to their benefit. 

AGOA has been at the core of our trade and investment policy with Sub-Saharan Africa because it, as I said, provides eligible countries with certain duty-free access to the economy and also helps to drive investment in the continent, creating thousands of jobs, promoting regional integration, and enhancing Africa’s export competitiveness.  It has also incentivized many African countries to undertake key political and economic reform. 

This was a subject of discussions at the U.S.-Africa Business Forum, where we had businesses, investors, and government leaders, including several heads of state and global CEOs, and we discussed how to take advantage of it.  One aspect of AGOA that’s become clear is that we would like African nations to take more advantage of it.  We feel, frankly, in some countries that AGOA is underutilized and we spent a lot of time during the summit speaking about why that is and how we could take steps to remedy that situation.  AGOA – the U.S. is a big market, and I think if we can – if we can help African nations make better use of AGOA, I think our partnership can only grow.   

MODERATOR:  Wonderful.  I know you have just a little bit of time left with us.  I’d like to take a question live from Ignatius Annor from Voice of America.  Can you open the line, please? 

QUESTION:  Yes, I can.  Tiffany, thank you very much.  Under Secretary Fernandez, thank you too.  I have a few questions, so I’ll just put them into one. 

One, I heard you correctly talk about the $55 billion promise for Africa over the next three years.  What I didn’t hear is the total of $15 billion that President Biden mentioned on the day he addressed a conference at the U.S.-Africa Business Forum.  That’s one. 

Number two, some analysts who attended the summit have really spoken about the fact that what they think is crucial to the African continent today is the issue of illicit financial flows that did not feature prominently on the agenda at all.  Would you have something to say about that? 

And also, the African Union Chairperson Macky Sall during the roundtable discussion with President Biden and Antony Blinken said that the African people would not be happy about a bill that is currently before Congress, actually has gone through the House of Representatives, which is the Countering Malign Russian Activities in Africa Act.  He says if that goes through, it would actually sever relations between both continents.  So how is – what’s the position of the government on this particular bill?   

And also, Carson, Ambassador Carson, has been appointed to essentially ensure that the deals and commitments made translate into reality.  When is he assuming his role, please?  Thank you.   

UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ:  Tiffany, could I – I had trouble hearing.  I don’t know why, but can you just summarize the questions?  Would you mind?   

MODERATOR:  Yes, there were questions on implementation by Ambassador Carson and when he would start his role, provide the implementation boost for the commitments.  There were questions about the bill for countering malign investments, about it possibly damaging the relationship between the United States and Africa, asking you for comment on that.  There were questions about illicit financial flows not being addressed during the conference.  And finally – I didn’t hear the first one very well.  There were questions about a 55 billion – there were discussions, statements about a 55 billion investment by the United States but not a statement of 15 billion, I believe it was, that Biden had mentioned earlier. 

So that’s a lot of questions.  We don’t really have time for all four, so take your best shot, please.   

UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ:  Well, he’s doing what a good journalist does, which is – and I appreciate it.  Let’s see if I can answer all of them quickly. 

On Ambassador Carson, Johnnie Carson is one of my favorite diplomats ever.  He is so knowledgeable of the region and he’s someone that I have always respected.  I worked with him when I was here at the State Department 10 years ago, and I would just sit back and listen to him, and I was always thrilled to, and I learned a lot from being around him.  So I’m really looking forward to working with him.  I don’t know when Johnnie will take his position, but knowing him it won’t be long. 

On the $55 billion investment, as I said earlier, we’ve announced plans to commit at least 55 billion in Africa over the next three years, and we are going to work on a number of issues – trade, investment, energy.  There are lots of things that we could do under Power Africa that we believe are there and that we intend to use some of those funds for that.   

On countering malign investments, I don’t think – and I don’t think it will be a – I don’t think it will be – it can only be a positive.  Our Congress has provided us with funding and is very interested in making sure that we promote investments that are transparent, create jobs, follow the highest environmental standards.  And so I think that’s an opportunity. 

And then on illicit financial flows, there is a number of programs that I could talk to you about.  And we are – we continue – we continue to do work on those issues.  But we also wanted to work on the positive aspect of it.  What additional funding could we bring to the table?  How could we follow best practices?  How could we – how could we partner with our – with our African brothers and sisters? 

So that’s what we spend most of the time talking about, but this is not the only engagement that we have with Africa.  We have constant, constant engagement with the African nations.  And I think this goes – this may actually be of interest to Mr. Quinn, who asked the question earlier:  Our next engagement, my next engagement, will be at Mining Indaba, where I went last year and where I was able to meet with the private sector in Africa.  I was able to meet with a number of government leaders.  And our engagement continues.  It is – it was highlighted in the African Leaders Summit, but it goes way beyond that, and we intend to strengthen it even more.   

MODERATOR:  All right, thank you.  That’s all the time we have.  Under Secretary Fernandez, did you have any final words for our visiting reporters? 

UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ:  No, I think I’d like to continue this conversation.  Look, I think you will see in the next – in certainly in 2023 that we will – we will be spending more and more time trying to strengthen our economic and business relations with Africa, building – again, building on a lot of good work that’s been done in the past.   

I could talk about the Millennium Challenge Corporation.  I could talk about what we’ve done in – on food security in Africa.  I’m proud to say that the U.S. is by far – this is not even – not even a close call – the U.S. is by far the largest provider of food assistance in the world, and it’s also the largest provider of food assistance to Africa.  Just last year, last year alone, the U.S. committed over $11 billion, $11 billion to address global food security.  Over the next three years, we are working with Congress to provide $1.9 billion in food security assistance for Africa to help African countries mitigate the impacts of growing food insecurity and malnutrition, including from Russia’s illegal and brutal war in Ukraine.   

Our Feed the Future work, we’ve added eight African countries as Feed the Future target countries.  This means that 16 of the 20 Feed the Future partners that we have today, 16 out of 20 are African countries.  We have announced plans to provide over just $11 billion to Feed the Future partners over the next five years.   

This is something we will build on.  Our relationship with Africa goes way beyond any one aspect, and we’re very – we’re very proud of it.  And you will continue to see a focus on this in the next year, and I look forward to continuing our conversation.   

MODERATOR:  That concludes today’s briefing.  I would like to thank Jose Fernandez, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and Environment, for joining us and thank all of the journalists for participating.  If you have any questions about today’s briefing, you may contact the Africa Regional Media Hub at AFMediaHub@state.gov.  Thank you. 


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