Deputy Secretary Biegun Remarks at the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership Forum

1 Sep

Stephen Biegun, Deputy Secretary of State

AMBASSADOR VERMA:  Thank you, Mahesh, and for all the great work that GE has done over the years in India.  And Mr. Secretary, thank you for being with us, thank you for your leadership, your service on North Korea, and now as Deputy Secretary.  As Mahesh mentioned, you were a key member of the National Security Council staff for President Bush 43, and were – and a key fixture in the House and Senate as well, where we got to work closely together when you worked for Senator Frist nearly 18 years ago, and of course your time in private industry.

So no one is better suited to be the Deputy Secretary at this time.  I also know how much you value the U.S.-India partnership, and we’ve talked about that over the years.  And I’m really proud that in these highly polarized times, you and I have remained exceptionally good friends and colleagues, as well.  Grateful for your service and I’m grateful for your friendship.

Mr. Secretary, I know you have some opening remarks; I’ll turn the floor over to you.  And then we’ll engage in a Q&A.  So over to you.

DEPUTY SECRETARY BIEGUN:  Well, thank you very much, Rich, and thank you, Mahesh, for that kind introduction.  First, I just want to make a mention:  This morning, I was greeted by the news regarding a loss to the people of India, and I want to convey on behalf of the United States our deepest condolences to the people of India on the passing of former President Pranab Mukherjee.  He’ll go down in history among India’s most distinguished statesmen and scholars, and his many visits to Washington, everything he did for the relationship, played an instrumental role in expanding this U.S.-India relationship, both in defense and external affairs when he was the minister.  A strong U.S.-India partnership will be one of his many lasting legacies, and it’s one that we can honor by our work in fora like this today.

It’s a pleasure to be here.  I want to thank the entire leadership of the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership Forum, including Mukesh Aghi and Chairman John Chambers.  I was in the private sector when the foundation was formed; I thought it was a great idea, a great initiative.  I didn’t stay long enough in the private sector to be the partner I wanted to be, but I’m very pleased to see that in fact the initiative has worked very well, and it’s great to be able to participate in this event today alongside so many champions of the U.S.-India relationship, including you, Rich, my old friend.

Rich, I – when I was in the private sector, you were a great partner, and it’s my great privilege to reciprocate that.  We worked on the Civil Nuclear Agreement together when I was in the private sector and you were in government, and also on many other initiatives of the U.S.-India relationship during your distinguished ambassadorial tenure.  And so it’s my great pleasure to reciprocate now, and thank you very much for asking me to be here today.

Some of you may know that Rich recently completed his Ph.D., so Dr. Verma perhaps is more appropriate.  And I know it’s late for some of you joining from India, so I’ll try to make this as interactive and interesting and quick as possible.

In two weeks, we will mark the 20th anniversary of Prime Minister Vajpayee’s historic visit to Washington, D.C.  Way back then I was working on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the time, and I recall the energy and enthusiasm that accompanied his visit and his joint address before Congress.  President Vajpayee spent some time at the Foreign Relations Committee before going over to dedicate the monument to Mahatma Gandhi that had been erected in front of the Indian Embassy.  And just a few short weeks ago, I and the Indian ambassador had a chance to rededicate, if you will, the monument, after having fixed some of the damage that was unfortunately done to it during the recent protests on the streets of Washington, D.C.  It’s a proud monument to our relationship and one that will stand as a symbol of that relationship for many years to come.

Four U.S. presidents and three Indian prime ministers – all from different political persuasions – have invested in the U.S.-India partnership over the last two decades.  They have been guided by the premise that a stronger relationship between the world’s largest and oldest democracies can promote prosperity and development for our citizens, ensure our sovereignty, combat terrorism, safeguard our people, and ensure that the rules-based global order remains robust and resilient through the 21st century.  And they have largely succeeded in leaving the relationship in an even better place in each case for their successor as president, and I expect this administration to be no exception.

As the fulcrum of global geopolitics and economics shifts to the Indo-Pacific, our partnership with India has become all the more vital.  To borrow a phrase from my – Prime Minister Vajpayee – we have “overcome the hesitations of history” to achieve a strong and stable partnership underpinned by that shared democratic values and common interests.  Our relationship today spans the globe, covering everything from aircraft carriers and space exploration to energy security and the all-important domain of vaccine research.  As with any close partnership, challenges do arise, but our track record has proven that through patience, dialogue, and a bit of good will, we can overcome any obstacle.

President Bush, the architect of the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement, once stated that “the United States and India, separated by half the globe, are closer than ever before, and the partnership between our free nations has the power to transform the world.”  That still holds true today, and I am confident that the future beckons new milestones for our dynamic and growing partnership.

Once again, thank you very much for inviting me to be part of this program today.  And Rich, I’d be pleased to answer any questions or enter into a discussion on any topics that you’d like to raise.  Thank you.

AMBASSADOR VERMA:  Yeah, that’s great.  Thank you, Mr. Secretary, for those good framing remarks.  I want to jump right in.  You noted that U.S.-India ties have been on a decidedly upward trend line for many years.  You also have been a big architect of the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy.  And I’m wondering if you can just say a little bit about how India and how U.S.-India ties specifically fits into that larger Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy.

DEPUTY SECRETARY BIEGUN:  Yeah, thanks, Rich.  Well, one of the things that animates the – our new Indo-Pacific strategy is the importance of having a strategy that reflects the realities of the modern world, and the Indo-Pacific strategy is focused around democracies.  It’s focused around free markets.  It’s focused upon the values that the Indian government and the Indian people share with the United States government and the United States people.  In order to make that successful we have to tap into the full scale of the region.  That includes the scale of economics, the scale of security cooperation, and that’s impossible to do without India as a centerpiece of the strategy.  So as important as I’d like to think the United States is to this strategy, it’s not going to be successful for us without India also standing side by side.

And India has shown tremendous leadership and interest in contributing in its own right to the Indo-Pacific strategy we’re advancing.  India and the United States have deepened our security cooperation.  We’ve – we’re in the process of seeking an even broader economic relationship and through – including through some dimensions of trade liberalization.  And we’re also working very closely in the security sphere, most recently India clearly indicating an intention to invite Australia to participate in the Malabar naval exercises, which will be a tremendous step forward in ensuring the freedom of passage and the security of the seas in the Indo-Pacific.

So in many ways, across multiple dimensions, the U.S.-India relationship is contributing to this, but also you see it in the personal interactions between Indian leaders and American leaders.  Those relationships have formed across different ideological foundations and different political parties over many, many years.  When you see our leaders together, you can tell that the wind is blowing in this direction in both countries, and that really will make us that much more successful with our strategies.

AMBASSADOR VERMA:  Yeah, thank you for that, Mr. Secretary.  One of the elements of the free and open strategy seems to be the development of this Quad formation, and you mentioned Australia joining Malabar.  But again, India has been a key member of the Quad.  I wonder if you could, again, say a little bit about what the Quad is, both militarily and politically, and how important that is going forward.

DEPUTY SECRETARY BIEGUN:  Yeah, so the Quad, which I think everyone knows is the United States, India, Australia, and Japan, first of all represent four extraordinarily solid democracies.  And I think that’s critically important because while interests will drive all our nations to make choices in the policy sphere in the Indo-Pacific and beyond, shared values that complement shared interests create a solid foundation.  And so at its core, what the Quad is is a combination of democracies.  But I think what also illuminates those four parties is a sense of responsibility and willingness to uphold the responsibilities, to extend the benefits of democracy, extend the benefits of economic development, and extend the benefits of security throughout the region.  All four of us, of course, are Pacific powers.

India has been somewhat – as an aside from some of the other regional institutions built – for example, AIPAC – and here, having the vision on our part to extend the Indo-Pacific relationship all the way to India and having the Indian willingness to break out of really what was decades of neutrality and a well-informed caution to extend its interests into the world.  India has also, as it’s grown and its interests have grown, India recognizes that it can’t be a passive player in how that develops throughout the Indo-Pacific.  So it’s a real coincidence of a variety of factors that are underpinned by that historic shared value of democracy that I think is really what illustrates the Quad.  And the Quad isn’t exclusive.  I think there’s plenty of reason to bring other countries into this discussion as well.

During the darkest days – and the days aren’t exactly that bright, admittedly, for India or the United States.  But during the darkest days of the COVID crisis, when it really was first descending upon us and we knew so little about it and so little about how to respond to it, a group of Indo-Pacific nations came together in a weekly meeting to discuss how we can cooperate across the whole breadth of issues that we were contending with, ranging from best practices in treating COVID-19 to shared information on the nature of the virus to helping each other locate or allocate desperately needed personal protection equipment and medications, and also how to respond to the severe disinformation campaign that was being launched in particular from China.

That weekly meeting was done in a conference call chaired by the United States.  It included Harsh Shringla, my counterpart in India, but also our counterparts in Japan and Australia, as well as our counterparts in South Korea and in Vietnam, and – oh, and New Zealand as well.  And seven of us on a weekly basis at my level – so just below the ministerial level – in each of those governments met weekly, and it was an incredibly productive discussion among very, very cooperative partners and one that we should look to to see a natural grouping of countries that really will do their very best to advance this combination of interests that we have in the Indo-Pacific.

So there’s a lot we are doing.  There’s going to be meeting of the Quad, a ministerial meeting with the Quad this fall in Delhi – that’s the intention anyway – in person.  I’d say this Quad concept has really helped India find a place in the Indo-Pacific – in the larger Indo-Pacific theater.  It’s also obviously indeed in our interest to have India as a partner in these issues.

AMBASSADOR VERMA:  Thank you for that.  Let me ask you two follow-up questions that will be helpful.  Would there be any attempts to formalize the Quad Plus that you just described?  And secondly, for people who say, look, both the Quad, the Quad Plus, the larger strategy is all about counterbalancing the rise of China, is this about kind of a countering China effort, or is there more to it?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BIEGUN:  So your first question on formalizing it, it’s certainly a temptation in governments.  Governments oftentimes live for their legacy, and certainly creating a new institution that reflects our shared interests and values in the Indo-Pacific would be a great accomplishment for any president.  I think we’re going to have to be a little bit careful here in doing that, although I think from an American perspective that would be easy.  We’ve got to make sure everybody’s moving at the same speed.

The – it is a reality that the Indo-Pacific region is actually lacking in strong multilateral structures.  They don’t have anything of the fortitude of NATO or the European Union.  The strongest institutions in Asia oftentimes are not – not inclusive enough, and so it is certainly – there is certainly an invitation there at some point to formalize a structure like this.

But I think your second question ties in very much to that, which is the question of for what purpose.  And obviously the benefits are sustained, regular communication between countries with those shared interests and values.  I don’t think responding to the threat of China in and of itself or any potential challenge from China in and of itself would be enough of a driver, though.  It also has to have a positive agenda.  And so here it can be – they’re sides to the same coin.

The purpose here can be to create a critical mass around the shared values and interests of those parties in a manner that attracts more countries in the Indo-Pacific, and even from around the world, to be working in a common cause or even ultimately to align in a more structured manner with them.  I think this was very much the initiative of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. And – but I’m afraid what happened with TPP is the ambitions got too big and ultimately it fell under the weight of excessive ambition, so I think also we have to be careful and modest here.

Starting with the Quad, starting with just the four might be a very important start, and it’s something that I think in the second term of the Trump administration or, were the President not to win, the first term of the next president, it could be something that would be very much worthwhile to be explored.  I’d just be very careful to not define it solely as an initiative to contain or to defend against China.  I don’t think that’s enough.  And then second, I would be careful not to be too ambitious in that as well.  I’ve heard – I’ve heard loose talk about an Indo-Pacific NATO and so on.  But remember, even NATO started with relatively modest expectations and a number of countries chose neutrality over NATO membership in post-World War II Europe.  The original NATO North Atlantic alliance only had 12 members relative to its 27 today.  So you can start a little bit smaller and grow into your membership.

So as long as we keep the purpose right and as long as we keep the ambitions checked to start with a very strong set of members, I think it’s worth exploring an (inaudible) like that, although it only will happen if the other countries are as committed as the United States.

AMBASSADOR VERMA:  Yeah, that’s really helpful.  Let me just stay on the China question, if I can.  Obviously, India is in a dangerous neighborhood and China has taken aggressive actions along its borders, India’s borders.  We’ve also seen the ramping up of pressure in Hong Kong and in other parts of the Indo-Pacific.  How concerned are you?  And again, what’s – maybe you could just share a little bit about the strategy.  I know you’ve testified about this and spoken a lot about this, but if you could give us just a minute or two on what the larger strategy is to deal with the emerging and growing threat.

DEPUTY SECRETARY BIEGUN:  Sure.  Thank you, Rich.  The – as I said in my testimony on Capitol Hill about three weeks ago, we are – our strategy is to push back against China in virtually every domain.  We’re doing it in the security area.  We’re doing it in terms of outsized demands to claim sovereign territory, whether it’s in the Galwan Valley of India on the India-Chinese border, or whether it’s in the South Pacific.  We’re also doing it economically.  The President has led the charge against the predatory practices from the Chinese economy and the Phase One trade deal is just a first step in that to be followed by many other steps in the years ahead in order to equalize and balance out the U.S.-China economic relationship.

Underpinning all of that is a demand for basic reciprocity.  For a very long time I think there had been a desire to extend to China special privileges and benefits, and even the benefit of the doubt among them, in order to bring China into the – into a more modern and prosperous future.  But unfortunately, 20 years ago when that initiative really was launched in earnest with China’s entry into the World Trade Organization, the bet by most policymakers was that eventually, the weight of the institutions that China was joining would slowly redirect the Chinese political system and Chinese interests to a point where China would become much more invested in a rules-based order that if not making them a true democracy, would at least moderate the tendencies of the government in order to make it a better partner for many of us around the world.

Unfortunately, this administration has reached the conclusion that that experiment has failed across all the domains that I mentioned where we’re pushing back against China.  Instead of finding some reasonable balance and shared interests, we’ve found that the Chinese have exploited every opportunity they can from technology theft to assertion of national sovereignty over the territory and territorial waters of other countries, and we are in a concerted effort to push back on all fronts.  But perhaps the biggest failed assumption was that the institutions that China joined would ultimately change China, and what we’ve found is in fact China grew so quickly at the beginning of this century that China’s outsized influence in those institutions is instead seeking to transform those institutions to China’s interests.  That’s unacceptable from our point of view and we’re pushing back in the institutions like the World Health Organization or like the World international – Intellectual Property Organization.  We’re pushing back hard to ensure that organizations either adhere to their core principles or we make clear we’re not going to be a party to those efforts.  So the – there’s a lot of concern about China, but there’s also a – to use a cliche, there’s an all-of-government effort here to turn it back.

Let me just add one thing, Rich, that as you look at these issues, as we look at these issues, it should always be important for us to look at them from the lens of how they look from Beijing as well.  And I have to say that there’s probably ample cause and even real concern inside Beijing as to what they’re confronting.  Internally, China is simultaneously trying to erase Tibetan cultural identity; they’re repressing hundreds of thousands if not more than a million Uyghur Muslims and trying to separate these people from their faith and from their historical tradition.  The Chinese Government is – has breached the U.S.-China – or excuse me, the U.K.-China agreement on the transition of Hong Kong and asserted direct state control from Beijing that has completely abolished the “one China, two systems” commitment that the Chinese made to – made to the U.K. and to the Hong Kong people to uphold through 2049.

But beyond the internal challenges, China is also facing deep strategic and economic tensions with the United States of America, as the United States seeks to push back against these various areas of concern that I highlighted, at the same time that they’re in near hostilities with the Government of India, that they are in a state of hostility with the people of Taiwan, that they are in a competition and sometimes less than – a less than cooperative relationship with Japan, that they’ve had a deep, steep deterioration of their relationship with Australia and to some extent with New Zealand, and they’ve been in a contentious battle of words and more with many of our partners in Europe over COVID-19 disinformation as well as a number of other Chinese behaviors that are deeply disturbing to our European partners.

And so from China’s perspective, whatever they’re doing can’t possibly be seen as working as they’re picking a fight right now on virtually every front and on every area of interest that the People’s Republic of China has.

AMBASSADOR VERMA:  Yeah.

DEPUTY SECRETARY BIEGUN:  They’re feeling their oats right now.  They’ve got a head of steam.  They’ve got – while they were the first country to be hit by the COVID-19, they were also one of the first to come out of it and leveraged that position relentlessly in order to advantage Chinese policies.  But honestly, they were so heavy-handed in that effort as well that I think it backfired against them in most parts of the world.

Now, I’m not gloating.  I’m not wishing ill for China.  Personally, I would prefer a much more cooperative relationship with China than we have today, but China bears a substantial part of the responsibility for where we are today and the Chinese Government is going to have to make some significant commitments and changes in what they’re doing – not in what they’re saying, but what they’re doing – if we’re going to see any reversal of that trend.

AMBASSADOR VERMA:  Yeah.  Mr. Secretary, it’s really (inaudible) you.  I know we’re out of time, but I also know perhaps in 60 seconds or less I can ask you a couple of questions we didn’t get to take, and apologies to your staff in advance.  But just yes or no, I guess: Do you think we’ve got a chance at a mini trade deal before the election?  Secondly, is there more we can do on defense cooperation and export controls, perhaps more on tech transfer?  And I guess finally, just with regard to Indian students and Indian workers who are traveling to the U.S., do you feel – do you still feel confident that we remain a country that welcomes them and we have the ability to process their visas and get them here to do the jobs that they’re doing?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BIEGUN:  Yeah, thanks, Rich.  So on the first question – sorry, what was the first one again?

AMBASSADOR VERMA:  The first question was about the trade deal.

DEPUTY SECRETARY BIEGUN:  Yeah.  I think there’s a chance.  It’s going to take a little more energy.  The time is short before the U.S. elections and a lot of governments around the world are hedging a little bit; I wouldn’t be surprised if the Indian Government as well.  But Prime Minister Modi and President Trump are actually – have a strong personal bond and a strong commitment to do this, so there’s a chance.  I know USTR is continuing to work at it.

What was your second one, now?

AMBASSADOR VERMA:  On defense.  Do you see more we can do on defense technology transfer and defense trade and cooperation?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BIEGUN:  I think this is an area – and I spoke to Ambassador Juster about this just recently – I think this is a huge area of opportunity.  I think India has even more alarm about the neighborhood in which it’s – in which it resides with the recent clashes with China.  We’re very eager to help India become a – become and remain a world-class power in contributing net security rather than worrying about net security and how it affects their interests.  And I think defense cooperation is a key avenue for this.

One of the countervailing trends is India’s appropriate desire to be more – also be more self-sufficient in defense, and I get that.  No country wants to be entirely dependent upon other parties.  Even in a partnership as close as the United States and India, there are times in which that – which that can be tested by other events in the regions – in the region or in the country.  And so I understand that, but I think it can’t come at the exclusion of giving India the best-in-class defense capabilities, and I think India’s going to find a very willing and creatively thinking partner in the United States in the weeks and months ahead in that exact area.

And your last question again – oh, on workers and on the welcome of Indian immigrants.  Let me say that the current temporary orders that are in place that have put some restrictions globally on the movement of workers in the United States, on non-immigrant visas, are only through the end of the year.  I think the President saw that as an extraordinary step that had to be taken during this period of COVID and COVID economic recovery, but the door definitely remains wide open.

The practical reality is that still with high levels of COVID-19 infection in many places around the world, including to our good friends in India and here at the United States of America, the normalization of travel and the movement of people, whether it’s for work or other purposes, is relatively limited.  I have – one of my children is a college student with three roommates from India and only one of the three was able to make it to the university this year just because of travel restrictions and other precautions, and I’m personally familiar with this.

I am confident that we will both turn the corner on the COVID-19 pandemic, especially through the rapid development of vaccines which I and many of us are very hopeful will be able to be deployed at least by the end of this year, or at latest by the end of this year.  And as we get back into what will hopefully be a post-pandemic period, I think we need to recognize that not everything in the world will go back to the way it was before, but I think some things really must, and that includes the deep relationship not just between the Indian and U.S. Government, but between the economies of the United States and India, which have both benefited greatly from, among other things, the movement of people and the use of the highest-skilled professions in order to supplement both of our economies.

AMBASSADOR VERMA:  Great.  Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.  Thank you for your service and for your participation here today.  Thank you to USISPF for organizing such a great kickoff.  Day one has been amazing.  And thank you to John Chambers and Mukesh and the whole team at USISPF.  Appreciate it.  Thanks to everyone who’s joined in.  Again, Mr. Secretary, thank you, and thanks for spending extra time with us.

DEPUTY SECRETARY BIEGUN:  Sure, thank you.  Good luck with the program, Rich, and great seeing you.

AMBASSADOR VERMA:  Thank you.

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Deputy Secretary of State Stephen E. Biegun At the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Virtual Event

12 Aug

Stephen Biegun, Deputy Secretary of State

PRESS BRIEFING ROOM

AMBASSADOR CURRIE:  Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you joining us here at the State Department.  I am Kelley Currie, the Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues here, and it’s my pleasure to welcome you here to the department today as we recognize and celebrate the progress and partnerships achieved through the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative.

It’s now my great honor to welcome the Deputy Secretary of State, and my friend, Steve Biegun, our host.

DEPUTY SECRETARY BIEGUN:  Thank you, Kelly, for that kind introduction.  And good afternoon, everyone.  Thanks for joining us here today.

I’m here with Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump, and our National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, as well as Bonnie Glick, the Deputy Administrator for USAID, in order to announce and celebrate an important new step for the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative, or W-GDP.

W-GDP is the first whole-of-government approach to helping millions of women around the world achieve their full economic potential.  And today, ten U.S. Government agencies are releasing their W-GDP Action Plans to promote economic freedoms for women around the world.

Here at the State Department, we are advancing women’s access globally to employment, credit, land ownership through our diplomacy and public-private partnerships and assistance programs.

We will continue to advance these foundational freedoms with other governments at the highest levels, while also working to achieve liberties – these same liberties with businesses, civil societies, and women themselves.

By empowering women in other countries, America benefits from the stability and prosperity that they bring to their communities and to their countries.

For example, the Millennium Challenge Corporation has been working through W-GDP with the Moroccan Government to recognize the rights of all heirs, including daughters, to inherit and own land.

One woman, Samira Sabri of the Marrakesh-Safi region, will finally be legally able to inherit land passed down to her from her father.  She will now have the right to work the land that her family has been farming for generations and use it to provide for her own family.  As a landowner, she’ll also have better access to capital, to education, and to opportunity.  Samira will contribute to the prosperity of her nation, and she will be economically self-sufficient.

We’re excited to see more women like Samira succeed as the State Department works to improve women’s access to courts in Cote d’Ivoire, Eswatini, South Africa, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea.  In Afghanistan and Pakistan, too, our bureaus are offering programs to educate women on their legal and inheritance rights.  They should have the opportunity to learn a skill, provide for their families, own property, and contribute to their own communities.  These activities are all a great expression of human dignity.

Promoting women’s empowerment is also smart economic policy.  Now more than ever, as we come back from COVID-19 pandemic, women will be critical to the economic recovery.

Already, women, such as Adjo Asare have been leading the economic response.  As the CEO of Alfie Designs, a clothing company in Ghana, Adjo and her mother have been creating employment opportunities in her community for decades.

When the pandemic hit, Adjo, an alumna of the State Department exchange program and a recipient of a grant under W-GDP from the U.S. African Development Foundation, provided Alfie Designs’ production to focus on essential PPE.  To date, the company has produced 720,000 cotton masks, 10,000 medical scrubs, and 18,000 head covers.  That’s an outstanding entrepreneurial vision in action.

With that, please let me welcome a tireless champion of women around the world and of this critical initiative.  She has inspired the advancement of women’s economic empowerment globally.  She is advisor to the President and a true role model herself, with deep experience in business and in leadership.  And she has been an incredible advocate and ambassador for the United States on women’s issues and has led the way for the W-GDP Prosperity Initiative to become a reality worldwide.

Please join me in welcoming Advisor to the President of the United States Ivanka Trump.

MS TRUMP:  Thank you so much, Deputy Secretary Biegun, for that incredibly gracious introduction and for your steadfast support of women’s economic empowerment at the State Department and around the world.

I’d also like to thank National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, Deputy Administrator Bonnie Glick, and Ambassador Kelley Currie for joining us at today’s event.  The success of W-GDP and our new announcements today would not be possible without your strong leadership and dedication.  We thank you.

I’d like to further recognize our private sector partners who are joining us today remotely.  These include Walmart, Mastercard, WEConnect, and the Reliance Foundation.  Public-private partnerships are a key component of W-GDP’s success as they ensure long-term sustainability and scalability of our programs.

A combination of impactful programs, a whole-of-government effort, and strong partners is having a major impact.

I am proud to share that in the first two years, the W-GDP Fund invested $200 million across more than 60 countries around the world and catalyzed more than $400 million through more than 450 partnerships with the private sector and nongovernmental and local organizations, as well as government – country governments.

Additionally, today we are releasing interagency W-GDP legal reform Action Plans responding to the President’s directive to address the legal and cultural barriers to women’s full and free economic participation throughout the world.

This is the type of bold action to expand the efforts of the federal government, the private sector, and other partners that restrict women’s ability to participate in their local economies that has been the American model for success.

W-GDP will reach 50 million women across the world by 2025 through three key W-GDP pillars:  enhancing workforce development; expanding entrepreneurship; and critically, ensuring economic equality for women under the law.

The U.S. has prioritized this work through W-GDP, the first ever all-of-government approach to helping millions of women achieve their full economic potential.  This critical work is now more important than ever as the world seeks to recover and rebuild from the pandemic, which has adversely affected women.

Since launching W-GDP less than a year ago, more than 12 million women have benefitted.

Today, I am pleased that W-GDP Fund is announcing 122 million in new partnerships and programs with unbelievable reach and potential for impact.

This year, the W-GDP Incentive Fund has already invested 34 million in 16 new activities across 43 countries.  One of our Incentive Fund partners is here with us digitally today.  Thank you to Walmart and CEO Doug McMillon for your dedication to facilitating market access for women-owned businesses in Guatemala.

Building on commitments towards Pillar 1, we are now launching Round Three of the WomenConnect Challenge, a $4 million challenge to support private-led efforts to bridge the gender digital divide.  We are excited to partner with Reliance Foundation and founder Nita Ambani on this newest round of WomenConnect Challenge funds in India.

We are also announcing a new $5 million partnership with Microsoft Airband that will work to extend high-speed broadband internet connectivity in developing economies to millions of women over the next three years.  Thank you to President Brad Smith of Microsoft for your partnership.

To continue our investment in entrepreneurship, we are pleased to launch the $23 million W-GDP Invest in Women Portfolio, which will work to promote systematic reforms in financial systems and encourage private-sector investment in women through innovative blended finance approaches.

We will also continue to work regionally, partnering for example with Mastercard in Colombia to improve access to markets and networks by equipping early-stage women fintech entrepreneurs with the direction needed to connect to Mastercard’s wider network.

We’ll also be partnering with Mastercard to empower women-owned, small-scale retailers in India to become part of the digital economy.  Thank you to my friend, CEO Ajay, one of W-GDP’s earliest advocates for the partnership.

To further build on these investments, we are expanding our partnership with WEConnect International in developing a multilingual and multifunctional Artificial Intelligence Platform to connect women-owned businesses with markets and investors.

We have always viewed W-GDP’s Pillar 3 legal reforms as foundational and are committed to evolving and expanding our efforts on this front.

Programmatically, and building on W-GDP’s legal Action Plans, we are investing $7 million in the W-GDP Women’s Land Rights program to strengthen women’s land rights in Malawi, Mozambique, Ghana, Zambia, and India.

Finally, we are continuing to advance women’s economic empowerment worldwide.

Pillar 3 efforts through the launch of the W-GDP’s Grand Challenge: Women Enabled in the Economy is a multi-year effort that will grow in its goal of bringing together the most innovative ideas and partners in women’s economic empowerment.

The activities we’ve announced today offer just a glimpse of the life-changing and society-shaping work that W-GDP is doing around the world.

The Trump administration is proud to have developed the W-GDP Initiative and we applaud all of our partners who continue to prioritize women’s economic empowerment and implement W-GDP.

I would now like to introduce the National Security Advisor and good friend, Robert O’Brien, a staunch advocate for women both at home and abroad.  Thank you, Robert.

MR O’BRIEN:  Good afternoon.  And thank you, Ivanka, for that generous introduction.  You’ve been a powerful leader on this issue.

It is great to be here with you at the State Department and it’s great to be back home, for me, at the State Department and see so many friends and colleagues here.

The evidence is clear:  Women’s economic empowerment goes hand in hand with global peace and prosperity.

Nations with a greater balance of men and women in the workplace and workforce have greater growth, innovation, and stability.

Conversely, the larger the opportunity gap between men and women, the more likely a country is to suffer from economic deprivation or to be involved in violent conflict.

So not only is empowering women the right thing to do, but global peace and prosperity require it.

President Trump has recognized this necessity, which is why he has made women’s economic empowerment a top priority for his administration.

Women’s empowerment is enshrined in President Trump’s 2017 National Security Strategy.  And it’s also reflected in the National Security Council staff, whose leaders, for the first time ever, are half women.

The President appreciates all of you being here, from Secretary Biegun, Acting Deputy Director of USAID and my good friend Bonnie Glick, Ambassador Currie, and of course Ivanka, who’s been a true champion for women internationally and here at home.

Together, we are executing on President Trump’s vision.

As Ivanka noted, W-GDP has already positively impacted 12 million women in its first year and is on track to reach 50 million women in the developing world by 2025.

These actions we are announcing today, which are designed to improve women’s ability to access institutions, build credit, manage property, travel freely, and work in the same sectors and jobs as men will accelerate our progress significantly.

According to the White House Council of Economic Advisers, if nations around the world addressed these five foundational areas of legal reform, we would add up to $7.7 trillion to annual global GDP.  And that’s something we need now more than ever as we recover from this COVID China virus.

As President Trump knows, removing barriers to women’s full and free participation in the economy is not just the right thing to do, it’s smart economic policy, it’s smart national security policy, and it’s smart foreign policy.

With that, I’d like to turn it over to Bonnie Glick, our fantastic USAID deputy director and a longtime friend.  Thank you.  And Bonnie, welcome.

MS GLICK:  Robert, Stephen, Ivanka, Kelley, thank you all so much for the warm welcome here to bringing USAID along with the rest of the conversation about the importance of Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative.

At USAID, we believe that the contributions of women are critical to a country’s political, economic, and social development.

That’s why women’s empowerment is an integral part of USAID’s work.  Investing in women is not only the smart thing to do; it’s a priority for countries around the world, because engaging with women can unlock human potential on a transformational scale.

Our mission at AID is to build a more free, stable, and prosperous world.  Our assistance lifts lives, bolsters communities, and advances women as integral members of their communities along those countries’ journeys to self-reliance.

But it would be a fool’s errand to think we can achieve all of this without full inclusion of half the world’s population.

Some of the biggest returns on investment of U.S. foreign assistance come from our efforts to ensure that women achieve their full economic potential.  This not only spurs economic growth and eradicates extreme poverty, but it also contributes to global peace and security, which is why investing in women’s economic empowerment is more important now than ever.

W-GDP is the first ever whole-of-government approach to advance global women’s economic empowerment, and I thank Advisor Trump for her leadership on this initiative.  The W-GDP Fund at USAID, now into its second year, has reached $200 million and made investments in more than 60 countries.  We expect to catalyze upwards of $400 million from the private sector and other partners such as NGOs and host governments.

While these investments demonstrate the scale of W-GDP, the real story lies with the individual women we support.

They’re women like Francine Munyaneza, CEO of MunyaxEco, a Rwandan solar energy company that sells water and solar heaters and other products.  With W-GDP support, Francine’s employees are enhancing their skills to compete in the male-dominated energy sector.  Francine is also hosting W-GDP-supported apprentices and providing them with hands-on work experience to jumpstart their careers.

As we enter the second year of the W-GDP Fund at USAID, I know that the best is yet to come.

We’ve just announced plans to release the W-GDP Pillar 3 Action Plans.  And I couldn’t agree more with Advisor Trump:  Without Pillar 3’s focus on a proper enabling environment for women in the economy, our W-GDP efforts cannot achieve maximum sustainable results.

Women cannot prosper in the workplace or succeed as entrepreneurs until we break down the legal, policy, and social barriers that inhibit their full economic participation.

W-GDP taps into local, new, and underutilized networks.  We’re also engaging more with the private sector, shifting toward enterprise-driven development as a more sustainable way to empower communities.  The private sector has the capital, the innovation, and the scale to shape solutions that achieve sustained impact.  In short, private enterprise is the most powerful engine for lifting people out of poverty.

In fact, the W-GDP Fund at USAID is planning to work with more than 50 private sector partners as a result of today’s announcements.

I’ll take a few minutes to talk about – a few seconds to talk about a few in particular, who we’ll be hearing from shortly here.

In Guatemala, we’re excited to be working with Walmart to facilitate access to new and expanded markets for women-owned businesses.  Walmart CEO Doug McMillon will talk to us more about this new endeavor.

We recently signed an MOU between Microsoft’s Airband Initiative and the W-GDP Fund. Microsoft’s President Brad Smith will tell us about how this partnership is bridging the gender digital divide by expanding internet connectivity for women and ensuring they can fully participate in the global economy.

Elizabeth Vazquez, CEO of WEConnect, is joining us today to discuss our partnership to develop a multilingual, web-based platform to connect women to new markets and investors.

And one partnership that we’re all particularly looking forward to launching is with Mastercard.  We’ll hear Mastercard CEO Ajay Banga share more about Mastercard’s commitment to W-GDP principles.

And last but not least, we’ll hear from one of our newest W-GDP partners, the Reliance Foundation.  Founder and Chairwoman Nita Ambani will talk about our work with her to bridge the gender digital divide in India.

We’re grateful for these partnerships and for the shared acknowledgment that both business and development interests are best served when women are empowered around the world. Successful women leading their communities are all the proof we need to demonstrate the significance of USAID’s investments.

So now let’s take a look at a video clip from our partners in the private sector describing these partnerships in a little bit more detail.

(A video was played.)

AMBASSADOR CURRIE:  Thank you, Deputy Secretary Biegun, Ambassador O’Brien, Advisor Trump, and Assistant Administrator Glick for joining us here today.  I really want to give a special thank you to Advisor Trump, who has been such a champion of women’s economic empowerment around the world, for joining us.  Thank you, Ivanka.

This next bold step represents to me, as a human rights lawyer, that one day women will finally have the opportunity to fully participate in their economies and build a brighter future for themselves, their families, and their community worldwide.

From Jordan, with women such as Mayyada Abu Jaber, who is at the forefront of removing restrictive laws against women, to Burma, where women such as Sandar Myo are breaking down barriers for women in major sectors such as agriculture.  The partnerships and commitments we have made here today will change the world.

Thank you again for joining us today.  And now, with your permission, Cale, I will take some questions.  Actually, I need to grab my binder, so if you’d wait for one second.  I would need it.  (Laughter.)  So yeah, I’m ready.

MR BROWN:  First let’s go to Kim Dozier.

QUESTION:  Thanks.  I’m with TIME.  The Afghan ambassador Roya Rahmani pointed out in an op-ed this week in Foreign Policy that roughly a quarter of the Afghan workforce is women, but she expressed concern that women would not have enough of a say in the peace talks that are coming up.  The Trump administration hasn’t made women’s rights a very public part of what they’re driving for in these talks, so can you assure Afghan women that you’re really behind their rights in this process moving forward?

AMBASSADOR CURRIE:  I actually have spoken with Ambassador Rahmani a couple of times this week, in fact, and we are working very closely with her.  I work directly with her through the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council, which is a great legacy program that we have here as a public-private partnership where we help to support Afghan women working in a whole host of fields and help do economic development projects in Afghanistan in partnership with U.S. leaders and U.S. private donors.  And we’ve leveraged – I don’t even – I’ve lost track of how much money and how many projects we’ve leveraged in Afghanistan through that initiative.

But I would actually say that overall we are working very hard to ensure that women have a full and meaningful role in the future of Afghanistan and that their rights are protected.  It is through U.S. engagement with the parties that we have – we believe that there was a lot of pressure – I know that there was pressure from our side to ensure that women were present at the negotiating table, and we’ve seen that the Afghan Government has appointed women to be negotiators.  We’ve seen women appointed governors or deputy governors all around Afghanistan recently by the government.

But we continue to see huge challenges.  Just this week there was an incident in the Loya Jirga that we were horrified to see a woman who raised questions about some of the prisoner release was physically assaulted, and another prominent minister in Afghanistan was physically – was physically and verbally assaulted in the Loya Jirga.  This is unacceptable behavior, but this is – it is up to Afghan men also to carry the load here.  We will do what we can, as involved as we are.  We will continue to press for the rights and the dignity of Afghan women and for all the citizens of Afghanistan to be able to live in dignity and prosperity.  But the people of Afghanistan have also got to step up and take responsibility for ensuring that women are able to walk around in the Loya Jirga and not be threatened and assaulted by their colleagues.  That is just not acceptable.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MR BROWN:  (Off-mike.)

QUESTION:  Thank you, Ambassador Currie.  The biggest criticism to the W-GDP initiative since its launch has been the fact that it ignores women reproductive rights and maternal health rights.  And at this point, particularly under the pandemic when many countries’ health systems are overwhelmed and maternal and reproductive health care is more difficult to access for women, can you explain how the W-GDP can continue to work to promote women’s economic interest if you continue to ignore maternal and reproductive health?

AMBASSADOR CURRIE:  W-GDP is a very focused program.  It is focused on a targeted approach that’s intended to create lasting change.  And by focusing the limited resources that we have at our disposal and continuing to utilize our diplomatic and programmatic tools at our disposal to drive women’s ability to participate in the economy fully, we believe that this is the best way that we can use the resources we have to address the barriers that are holding back women.

We’re really focused on achieving reforms in five foundational areas for women – legal reforms on things like their ability to inherit property or their access to capital or their ability to work in the same jobs and sectors as men.  These are really, truly foundational issues that keep women from fully participating in their economy.  They’re also very consensus-based.  There is not an argument about them.  They are – they’re areas where everybody should be able to agree and get behind and push on these issues.

And we’re committed to building the kinds of safeguards into our programs to ensure that women and girls who participate in them are – have appropriate protections.  And we fully agree that when women and girls are healthy and educated and able to freely engage in their workforces and run their own businesses, their economies are stronger.

But we’re asking – as you point out, this is a time of limited – in COVID where economies are cratering, the fiscal condition of many states and governments is very limited.  We’re looking at what we think are low-cost, high-impact solutions.  They don’t require large outlays of funds from governments to remove these barriers, but they do offer the potential for governments to enjoy enormously improved prosperity in their economies and allow women to make more decisions about their own lives.

And so we feel like this is the best approach that we can take, and by targeting on the things that we’re targeting on – entrepreneurship and the enabling environment for entrepreneurship – that we’re advancing America’s national interests at the same that we’re building up a world where more women can live in peace and dignity and prosperity.

MR BROWN:  Kylie.

QUESTION:  Hi, thanks for doing this.  Quick question just on the State Department writ large:  You’re obviously a female ambassador —

AMBASSADOR CURRIE:  Yes.

QUESTION:  — at the podium, which is great, but less than 20 percent of the ambassadors at the State Department are women.  So can you talk a little bit about any parallel efforts alongside the W-GDP to advocate for support of female diplomats in the American diplomatic corps to advance to the highest levels?  And then I have one more question.

AMBASSADOR CURRIE:  We’re actually really proud here at the State Department that 44 percent of our workforce is female, that we continue to expand the diversity of this – of the workforce here at the department.  This is a priority for the Secretary.  I enjoy a wonderful amount of support and encouragement from him.  He has been a wonderful boss for me personally.  I have had three jobs in this administration, and each time I have had – I’ve been really fortunate to serve.

I think that we continue here at the department to work through a whole host of initiatives to promote diversity and inclusion in the department, and I would defer you to our under secretary for management’s office for more detail, and I know that there’s a lot of information about those on our webpage.  But I believe that with a 44 percent rate of women working here in the department, we’re doing pretty well, and I like – when I walk around and I work with my colleagues at my level, that assistant secretary level and my colleagues, I work with a number of incredibly strong, capable, and extremely hardworking women here at the department, and I’m honored to call them my colleagues and I have a tremendous amount of support from my male colleagues too.

QUESTION:  And can I ask you one more question?

AMBASSADOR CURRIE:  Sure.

MR BROWN:  Last question.

QUESTION:  Okay.  You talked about the pandemic, obviously, and experts say that pandemics disproportionately affect women, female entrepreneurs.  So what are some specific things that W-GDP has done to morph its program and to provide extra support in the face of this economic challenge?

AMBASSADOR CURRIE:  Well, I’ll pull back a little bit, because one of the things when the pandemic hit, and we started to realize the scope and scale of what was happening and to see the disproportionate impact that it was having on women – in particular, women in this country, one in three women – or one in three essential workers in this country are – is a woman.  And we also – before this pandemic, the United States had the highest female workforce participation rate that we’ve had.  We had just done a tremendous job of bringing women into the economy and we saw it here in our own economy, how women are facing growing challenges as a result of the pandemic and have been disproportionately affected, and we see this across the world as well.

But one of the things that really bothered me personally and some of my colleagues here:  When the pandemic began, we started to see a lot of the statements about this fact, about some of these facts couched in terms of – that place women in a role of victims who were sitting, waiting for somebody to come and save them.  And I – so one of the first things we did was make sure that we were not talking about the situation in that way, that we were talking about how women will be the drivers of this recovery, that women are the critical frontline workers in this situation, and we need to make sure that we are doing everything we can to enable them.

And then we sat and looked at what we – how we designed W-GDP, and again, I came into this job in January, so the program was designed a year before I showed up here in this job.  But it’s a tremendously well-designed program because what it does, by looking at the enabling environment, we are focused on how the barriers to women’s participation can be removed so that women can be full participants in the economy, and how they can drive prosperity and growth.

So by – we were able to use the tools that we have under W-GDP and apply them to the current situation, I think, very effectively.  We’ve expanded – we’ve continued to expand women’s entrepreneurship support.  One of the biggest challenges for women is that they tend to work in the informal sector especially in developing countries, and so you see that these sectors have been very hard hit, especially also service sectors, tourism-dependent sector.  So we’ve really looked at how we can expand the entrepreneurship access to financing and the training and skills building.  Skills building is going to be critical for women to be able to take advantage of new jobs and opportunities and to re-tool their own skills to be able to respond to the economic landscape as it evolves.

So we’re – we feel like we actually had a very well-designed initiative that was able to be applied directly to the current context without too much adjustment.  Obviously, we’ve worked with some of the beneficiaries who were – who you heard about today who have been doing some things to transform their own businesses to focus more on PPE or other service provision that they can do.  And we’ve seen some really great stories around the world from some of our partners, but we’ve – the initiative itself is really such a great platform for us to be able to work through these issues, and it’s been a – it’s great to have this tool already in our toolkit when this pandemic hit.

MR BROWN:  All right.  Thank you very much.

AMBASSADOR CURRIE:  Yeah, thank you.  Thank you.

 

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