Ambassador Godec’s Remarks at American Chamber of Commerce Doing Business with the USA Forum

Ambassador Godec’s Remarks at American Chamber of Commerce Doing Business with the USA Forum

May 30, 2018

Thank you AmCham CEO Maxwell Okello.  I am very pleased to welcome you today to the American Chamber of Commerce in Kenya’s first-ever “Doing Business with the USA Forum.”  This is a wonderful initiative – providing local and international businesses with practical information on how to capitalize on commercial opportunities and increase trade and investment between the United States and Kenya.

I would like to thank the American Chamber for its leadership in bringing together this event.  And, at the outset, let me also mention the biggest U.S. – Kenya economic and commercial event of the year coming up in June – the visit of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, during which the AmCham will host a Big Four Summit.  Secretary Ross will lead a delegation of 75 representatives from the U.S. government and private sector to usher in a new era in U.S.-Kenya commercial relations.  The centerpiece of the visit will be the Summit, which will bring together the governments and the private sectors of our two countries to see how we can partner to take our trade and investment relations to the next level.

The visit by the Commerce Secretary and the summit will be another step in our close and growing bilateral partnership.  For more than 50 years, we have worked together in so many areas… security, healthcare, education, agriculture, trade and investment, and much more.  Hand in hand, we’ve improved the lives of Kenyans and Americans.  Our relations are government to government, business to business, civil society to civil society, university to university.  And, they are people to people.  The tapestry of our relations is vibrant and varied.  We are great partners.

At the same time, I can’t help but think we can do better on our trade and investment partnership.  Last year, U.S.-Kenya bilateral merchandise trade was over $1 billion – and the United States imported over $100 million more in Kenyan goods than we exported to Kenya.  And that does not include trade in services as we don’t yet measure service trade.  If we did, I bet the overall trade numbers could be much higher.  There are hundreds of American companies present in Kenya, and the numbers are clearly climbing fast.  Over my six years in Nairobi, I have seen unprecedented interest on the part of American companies – large, medium and small – in doing business in Kenya.

The reasons for this are clear.  Kenya is the largest and most diversified economy in the region.  It is the logistics, transportation, financial, and media hub of East Africa.  It has a rapidly improving business environment, as demonstrated by its 56 slot improvement in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business survey during the last three years.  It is showing healthy economic growth powered by strong contributions by multiple sectors, a diversified economy with an ambitious infrastructure build-out, a growing middle class with disposable income, and an underlying culture of innovation combined with high financial inclusion rates.

On the flip side, the United States is the largest consumer market on earth, made up of 325 million people, a GDP of $18 trillion, and accounting for nearly a third of global household consumption.  Besides providing duty free access to our market for most sub-Saharan countries under AGOA, the United States has free trade agreements with 20 other countries.  So if you want to grow your business globally, investing in the United States will provide you with greater access to hundreds of millions of additional consumers.

But the United States is more than the world’s largest commercial market.  It is the world’s leader in product innovation, manufacturing, logistics, market research, branding, and marketing.  It also offers a highly skilled workforce.  All this makes the United States a powerful engine of growth for Kenyan and other foreign companies of all sizes that are willing to enter the U.S. market or partner with American companies.

Earlier this year, United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer was asked about the potential for U.S. trade with Africa.  He said he sees “enormous potential” in Africa and that USTR is seriously looking at prospects for a Free Trade Agreement with an African country, that such a deal would be swiftly negotiated, and that the deal would serve as “model” for other countries in the region.

Ambassador Lighthizer was right.  There is enormous potential in Africa.  Spending by African consumers and businesses already totals $4 trillion annually, and is growing rapidly.  There is huge potential for African and American companies to build on each others’ strengths and markets, and to build shared successes.  This potential is another reason to strengthen our commercial partnership.

While the foundations of our long term economic and commercial relations are laid on a solid bedrock of shared values and common interests, I am particularly excited by three signs of strong progress and future opportunity.

First, on the infrastructure side, Bechtel’s contract to provide Kenya with a new, four-to-six-lane, gold-standard Mombasa-to-Nairobi highway that cuts travel time from 10 hours or longer to four hours will speed East African trade.  Another major project that will have lasting effects is the General Electric and OPIC participation in the Kipeto Wind Power project.  U.S. tech firms will continue to locate here in Africa’s “Silicon Savannah.”  Innovative companies such as Andela, Twiga, and M-Kopa are at the forefront of transformational change in Kenya, deploying technology and practices that will be modelled around the world.  Google Loon plans to provide Kenya with innovative new leap-frogging technology; a balloon-based, mobile internet service with the power to bring connectivity and mobile commerce to previously unreached corners of Kenya.

Second, 2018 could also bring direct flights between Nairobi and New York, which could unlock new opportunities for tourism, trade, and investment.  The United States in 2016 became the top source of tourists to Kenya, and that trend will accelerate.  Business, trade, and investment ties will deepen.  People-to-people ties will flourish.  Kenya’s position as an East Africa regional hub will be strengthened.  All thanks to Kenya’s government commitment and an ultra-long-haul flight made possible by aircraft from Boeing, another iconic American company.

The third sign of positive prospects, which I have already mentioned, is the strong economic outlook for Kenya, based on sound macroeconomic management; a diversified economy that is a regional financial, transportation, and technology hub; and a rapidly improving business environment.  I do not, however, want to ignore the challenges, and there remain many.  The biggest is corruption, which is undermining the country’s future and it must be addressed.   The United States welcomes the recent action by the Director of Public Prosecutions and other Kenyan government agencies to charge officials connected to allegations of widespread corruption, as well as President Kenyatta’s commitment to address this issue head on.  Kenya’s political leaders, law enforcement agencies, and judiciary must act quickly and decisively to end the scourge of corruption.

Kenya’s strengths are the reason why we have seen an unprecedented wave of American companies exploring the Kenyan market, seeking partners and opportunities, bringing their technology, innovation, and enthusiasm for Kenya with them.  My team at U.S. Embassy Nairobi is already, and will continue to be, an active partner supporting these companies, the U.S .and Kenyan private sectors, and you.  Many U.S. government agencies at the Embassy work every day to increase our trade and investment ties, including our Foreign Commercial Service, Foreign Agricultural Service, Economic Office, and USAID.

We look forward to answering your questions, to hearing your insights and ideas, and to working alongside AmCham, and you, to build your businesses and to ensure that the U.S.-Kenya economic partnership reaches its full potential.

We want the United States to be the partner of choice for Kenyan businesses, for your businesses.  Our strong, balanced, and deepening trade relationship is marked by new projects, new connections, and by a rising interest in trade and investment possibilities.  In this positive environment, you can be certain the U.S. Embassy will continue to work to make the United States Kenya’s number one partner of choice, your partner of choice.  Together, we will build greater prosperity for both Kenyans and Americans.

Asanteni sana.