Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
Walter E. Washington Convention Center
MS ALBRIGHT: Good morning. It’s wonderful to be with you all. Thank you all so much for joining us. I’m here – and you’ll see shortly – joined by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and also President Bazoum and President Talon, our dear partners from Niger and Benin. And thank you all so much for joining us today.
I’m just thrilled to be here at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, working alongside leaders from both sides of the Atlantic as we work together to strengthen partnerships between the United States and all of our dear friends on the continent of Africa.
And that is what this summit is all about: to refresh, to recommit, and to strengthen our partnerships; to pursue opportunities, and to solve the complex, integrated challenges that lie ahead of us, together – opportunities such as increasing trade and connecting markets and moving goods across borders, and challenges such as security, governance, and political reform.
We are here today because MCC has and always will listen to our partners on the continent. Our partners want regional integration for trade, for economic growth, to increase the flow of goods across borders, and to create more economic opportunities for their citizens. In 2018, MCC – my agency – sought an additional authority, and it’s a special authority, and it’s an authority that allows us to enter into regional compacts. And that is exactly what our partners were asking.
This authority is complex, and it involves working with several countries at a time. And today, we are deeply honored to be working with two of our critical partners: Benin and Niger. And today marks a historical first, because today we will be signing our first regional compact under this very important authority. (Applause.)
The compact will involve $504 million and will be further supported by contributions of $15 million each from Benin and Niger. And entering into this regional compact, MCC will be building on the longstanding relationships that we’ve already had with both countries, which involves some $1.1 billion of investment in critical sectors such as agriculture, irrigation, and energy.
The Benin-Niger Regional Compact will strengthen regional economic collaboration and advance the goals of the African Continental Free Trade Area. By rehabilitating one of the most heavily traveled corridors in West Africa, the compact will give a big boost to the people and the businesses whose livelihoods and futures depend on the flow of goods between Niamey and Cotonou as an economic lifeline.
All told, the compact is expected to benefit at least 1.2 million people on both sides of the border. And it could benefit even more people if you, our friends in the business community, joined us as partners to extend the network and further its impact. The United States is so proud to partner with both Benin and Niger. I want to thank the staff at MCC and our dear counterparts in Benin and Niger for their tremendous work in reaching this historic moment.
I look forward to working with all of you to ensure that this investment delivers on its enormous potential to give the people of Benin and Niger the tools they need to build a more prosperous future.
Thank you so much for joining us. I’m so excited to be with you all today on what is a very historic day. But first it is my distinct honor to introduce my dear friend and the U.S. Secretary of State, Secretary of State Antony Blinken to the stage to share his remarks with you. Secretary of State Blinken. (Applause.)
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good morning, everyone. You’ve heard from CEO Albright about what is truly an innovative initiative, and I want to say a few words about it this morning. But before I do, Alice, to you, thank you. Thank you for your extraordinary leadership of the MCC. This is in so many ways for us around the world where the rubber meets the road in actually having concrete projects that are making a concrete difference in the lives of millions of people. And I could not be more proud and enthusiastic about the work that MCC is doing under your leadership. Alice, thank you.
President Talon, President Bazoum, we are thrilled to launch this new partnership with you today. As Alice said, this is unprecedented for the MCC – a historic step for our relationship with two important partners. Today, we’re signing joint MCC compacts with Benin and Niger – the first time, as you’ve heard from Alice, that the two countries will collaborate with the MCC, to tackle an issue that reaches across their borders.
Benin and Niger are two of the fastest growing economies in Sub-Saharan Africa. Their partnership will support growth. It’ll strengthen trade and transportation infrastructure and connect their nations, their industries, and their people.
And as many of you know, one of the tremendous opportunities in Africa – but that extends beyond Africa – is building connectivity within Africa. As we’ve seen over the years, Africa has more trade with countries outside of Africa than it does within Africa itself. That’s not normal. This connectivity will help change that. As this group knows well, the port in Benin is critical to the economy of West Africa, the Cotonou port. For Benin, it’s a major source of revenue, facilitating international trade, allowing the export of its products. For neighboring countries like Niger, this port is the main gateway for exporting goods to markets around the world, as well as for importing vital products, including food and cooking oil. The corridors that allow products to move between Niger and Benin, these form a critical foundation for business and also of livelihoods.
The MCC compacts will invest more than half a billion dollars in that infrastructure, and they’ll do it with grants, which means that they won’t saddle governments with debt. The projects will bear the hallmarks of America’s partnership. They’ll be transparent, they’ll be high quality, they’ll be accountable to the people that they mean to serve, and they’ll also support good governance. When completed, these projects will make it faster and safer to transport goods along roads and across borders, and they’ll connect Benin and Niger to bigger markets and greater opportunities. These are developments that in turn can help economies grow sustainably and equitably and deliver meaningful pathways to prosperity for hundreds of thousands, if not more, people.
At this week’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, we’ve made it a priority to mobilize these kinds of investments because we know that this is how you create real, tangible benefits for people on both sides of the Atlantic. We’re pursuing these investments together alongside African nations as genuine partners. That’s the foundation of our administration’s strategy for the region, and it’s also a core pillar of the MCC model. These new compacts were designed by Benin and Niger thanks to the efforts of President Talon, President Bazoum, partners across their governments and societies. They’re funded in part, as you’ve heard, by these countries. The implementation will be led by them as well. That’s the best way to combine our strengths, to maximize our resources, to reach our shared goals.
In short, to create real change, we need real partnerships just like the one we’re announcing and signing today. So I wanted to come simply to say congratulations to everyone involved. This is a milestone; this is innovation. I think it points the way forward as well for many of the projects that MCC will undertake, and it certainly points the way forward for Africa and for our friends in Benin and Niger. To everyone here, thank you for joining this morning and thank you for your own engagement. The opportunity is immense. We’re trying to put in place the means, the methods by which to actually seize it. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
MODERATOR: Your Excellencies, honored guests, please welcome Patrice Talon, president of the Republic of Benin. (Applause.)
PRESIDENT TALON: (Via interpreter) Dear participants, madam head of MCC, Mr. Secretary of State, it’s a real pleasure for me to be the beneficiary and the test – the actor in this regional compact, which gives more dynamic to the cooperation between the United States and Africa. It’s a major innovation that we see in international cooperation and in cooperation between the U.S. and Benin and our brother country Niger.
As the Secretary of State has just said, this is an innovation that should be noted because it will help to bring together two neighboring countries to make the space more attractive to businesspeople. Africa is very large but some countries are fairly small markets, and so the attraction for the business world is small. And if we increase our collaboration among African countries, countries that have small markets, this is a great way to increase the attractiveness of our countries. That’s why the compact which will be signed represents a major innovation.
I want to ask MCC and Madam Albright to ask her to persevere along those lines so that soon we will be able to sign compacts aimed at promoting investments, U.S. private investments, in our country, because we note, in spite of all the efforts made by the countries to improve climate, the climate environment, that the number of private businesspeople from the United States in Africa is low. So we need to improve our attractiveness and the – this kinds of compact can promote investment in our country, because development cannot come only from investments in infrastructures and in investments in other basic needs for development, but to – for the growth to be real, we need private sector investment. That’s the only way to have sustainable development.
I will end by saying that the attractiveness of Africa must be an element in the relationship between the U.S. and all our countries so the private sector will take over from other governments trying to promote the – our economies. Thank you very much to the United States.
MODERATOR: Your Excellencies, honored guests, please welcome Mohamed Bazoum, president of the Republic of Niger.
PRESIDENT BAZOUM: (Via interpreter) Mr. President of Benin, dear friends, Mr. Secretary of State, Madam Alice Albright from MCC, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to say how happy I am to participate in this signature in a few moments, the signature which launches this regional compact between Niger and Benin. Benin is a strategic partner for the development of Niger because the port of Cotonou is the closest port of – from Niamey. It’s a thousand kilometers from Niamey. And for a long time, we’ve considered that this is our natural port, and we’ve developed all the necessary instruments so that we can have relationships that make the economy of Niger viable by linking – by basing our efforts on this corridor that links us to Benin.
And you, our U.S. partners, understood this. And so that we – they made sure that we could have quality infrastructure between our two countries. We’re at the end of the – a Nigerien compact that has already invested a lot in the road infrastructure, and the – this regional compact will complete what’s already been done. And I’d like to hear – render homage to the cooperation of – between the U.S. and Niger, and the cooperation between the U.S. and our two countries. There’ll be investments in infrastructures, but there will be also institutional reforms, which will be implemented in order to increase the flow of trade and the contacts between our two countries.
The U.S. Government will – is in fact meeting our desires and determination, and this is another reason for which we consider that we are facing a partner which pays attention to our expectation and helps us realize our own interest. That is why, madam, I’d like to thank you and tell you how committed we are to make sure that the infrastructures and the reforms which will be carried out will be carried out in the best way possible so that we can strengthen relationships between Benin and Niger. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
(The compact was signed.)