Remarks at the Inaugural U.S.-Zambia Business Summit
Wednesday, October 12, 2022, 8:40 a.m.
As prepared for delivery
Thank you very much, Cynthia, for your introduction. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests.
All of us are gathered here today for a very simple reason: we recognize Zambia’s extraordinary potential, and we are committed to making it a reality!
I am excited to join you to provide welcoming remarks that I hope will help set the stage for engaging discussions throughout the next day and a half. We have not had a gathering such as this here since Zambia hosted the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Forum in 2011.
This gathering represents the fulfillment of a request that President Hichilema made during his January visit to Johannesburg, where he met privately with several of our business leaders and made the case for Zambia as an attractive investment destination. Let me thank both the representatives of American companies as well as our interagency U.S. Government team for helping us to fulfill that request.
The Zambian people in August 2021 delivered an unmistakable message at the polls. They rejected widespread corruption and they called for bold and systematic democratic reforms that would revitalize the country and provide economic opportunities to the people.
President Hichilema inherited a government steeped in debt and in the midst of a years-long financial crisis that created a vicious downward spiral as the kwacha steadily lost value, as inflation surged, and the cost of capital for productive long-term investment exceeded a remarkable 30 percent – think about that for a moment.
How many businesses can realistically or sustainably invest when the cost of capital is so prohibitively expensive?
I raise this issue because I think it’s important for our invited guests from South Africa and elsewhere to understand just how far Zambia has come since August 2021. And it has come that far not just because of happenstance, but because of a bold vision, unyielding political will from the very senior-most levels of government, and an energy and dynamism from a citizenry of business leaders and workers alike that is palpable in demanding and achieving that change.
Zambia today is implementing an IMF program that is anchoring real economic reform;
Zambia today is tackling inflation and stabilizing the national currency;
Zambia today is implementing pro-growth policies;
Zambia today recognizes that economic growth comes from investment and the entrepreneurial dynamism of the private sector and the Zambia of today wants to welcome you.
I think that is a message you will hear loud and clear from the Ministry of Commerce, the Zambia Development Agency, and the many other distinguished speakers on the program. It is also a message I hear day-in and day-out as I interact with Zambians across political and socio-economic spheres.
Working with the Zambian government to improve Zambia’s business enabling environment is my top objective as Ambassador of the United States because I, too, see Zambia’s extraordinary potential, especially with its large youth population, which is poised to become a highly productive labor force leveraging the investment and skills training from your companies to drive growth, employment, and prosperity. I envision a Zambia positioned to attract capital formation in every sector to become a leading economy and a thriving commercial hub for all of Southern Africa.
How will they do that?:
- By raising the value-addition of Zambia’s mining and energy industries;
- By developing this country’s extraordinary agricultural potential, raising yields, developing and taking advantage of value chains, and creating new jobs in food processing so that Zambia can realize its potential – and clear comparative advantage – as a breadbasket for the African continent;
- They will do this by leveraging American technological know-how to meet the growing demand for ICT in every sector from financial services to healthcare; and
- By developing the critical infrastructure needed to support a vibrant, growing population and economy.
The United States stands ready to partner with Zambia and to partner with each one of you to ensure that this great country seizes the energy of the current Zambian renaissance and achieves its extraordinary potential. In fact, you’ll be joined in the program later today by colleagues from the U.S. Trade and Development Agency and the Development Finance Corporation, who can share tangible examples of just how the U.S. Government can support American investment and with Zambia.
You’ll also have an opportunity to meet representatives from the American Chamber of Commerce in Zambia, which provides invaluable networking opportunities and effective policy support in regular engagements with the Government of Zambia.
My embassy… no your embassy, the American Embassy is focused intently on engaging business and the Zambian Government on that policy piece, to remove bottlenecks and facilitate business. In fact, through USAID, we have a dedicated project that is working with Zambia to improve the business enabling environment and to reduce rural poverty. What does that mean for the private sector?
It means we are looking at ways to support the Zambian government in its efforts to attract foreign investment, develop its entrepreneurs, and reduce barriers for private sector growth.
We applaud President Hichilema and the IFC for setting up the Public-Private Dialogue Forum (or the PPDF) – a platform that is already identifying and enacting solutions to challenges that businesses face across multiple sectors. USAID programming is supporting initiatives like the PPDF to facilitate greater communication between the private sector, local communities, and the Zambian government.
Together, we have identified bottlenecks in the agriculture, tourism, and energy sectors, and we are engaging with private sector associations, think tanks, entrepreneurs, and the Zambian government to find solutions. And we are very thankful that the Zambian government is receptive to implementing the reforms needed to spur private sector growth.
We are also looking at ways to improve access to credit for businesses. For example, over the past decade, the U.S. government’s African Development Foundation has invested $15.5 million directly into 140 Zambian community enterprises, providing grant capital and local technical support to early-stage businesses.
We have also partnered with the U.S. Development Finance Corporation (or DFC) to de-risk loans to small and medium sized enterprises.
Through a $20 million loan guaranty with Absa Bank Zambia, approved just a couple of months ago, we are now backing loans to SMEs in the agriculture, clean cooking, tourism, and manufacturing sectors… getting more credit in the hands of business owners who can put that capital to work.
As we look to spur greater trade and investment, USAID is also investing $30 million over the next five years to increase market intelligence, to facilitate trade, and to attract investment – primarily in the agricultural space where we see the greatest link to reducing rural poverty.
Through partnerships with a receptive and willing Zambian government, we are partnering to explore even more innovative solutions to improve the business enabling environment using our development dollars.
I know we can do more, and with your support, we will!
So, on behalf of the U.S. government, I thank you again for joining us. I hope that you find the discussions over the next day and a half both informative and stimulating to help you come to the same conclusion: that Zambia is open for business and to catalyze you toward taking the next steps toward doing business here yourselves.