Under Secretary of Commerce For International Trade Francisco SÁnchez
U.S.-Saudi Business Opportunities Forum
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Los Angeles, California
As prepared for delivery
Hello friends. Salem a lakem.
Dr. Al-Fahad, thank you so much for your kind introduction.
I am delighted to be here at the U.S.-Saudi Business Opportunities Forum.
Dr. Alrabiah, Minister of Commerce and Industry for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, thank you very much for the gracious invitation to participate here today.
I am so pleased to see such a great turnout by the U.S. and Saudi business community.
It’s a testament to the important relationship between the United States, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and to the opportunities for greater commerce and trade between our two countries.
I had a detailed speech prepared by my team with lots of statistics about our two countries, but by now, most of you know all of those statistics.
I am not going to bore you with data that you can easily get from the Internet.
Instead, I would like to share with you my own experiences of visiting the Kingdom.
I’ve had the honor and privilege to lead two trade missions to Saudi Arabia soon after President Obama appointed me to my current position.
These trade missions were designed to advance President Obama's National Export Initiative, which aims to double U.S. exports within five years, supporting economic and job growth at home and abroad.
And by the way, in the case of Saudi Arabia, we are very close to achieving President's goal of doubling U.S. exports to Saudi Arabia this year!
In 2010, I visited Saudi Arabia for the very first time with a delegation of 11 American specialized companies in health care and water and waste management to explore possible investment opportunities, as Saudi Arabia was increasing its focus on these sectors.
Subsequently, I was so impressed with what I had seen in Saudi Arabia, I returned within the six months to lead another trade mission in the renewable energy sector.
And, I am looking forward to leading a third trade mission to Saudi Arabia focused on Cyber Security and Infrastructure Protection in 10 days.
There will be 13 companies on this trip and we’re looking forward to a very successful trade mission.
In addition, you heard from Secretary Pritzker that we are in the planning stages for an infrastructure trade mission tentatively scheduled for March 2014.
Saudi Arabia and the U.S. have a long history of great friendship and of being allies on many fronts, including commerce.
But let me share with you my impression of Saudi Arabia based on my visits there.
I found Saudi people to be some of the warmest and most affectionate people in the world.
They opened their homes to me and my colleagues, and welcomed us with open arms.
These visits exceeded my expectations, as well as those of the private companies who accompanied me to Saudi Arabia.
We met with cabinet members and other government and private sector officials to explore investment opportunities.
During these visits and meetings, one thing came out loud and clear.
Our Saudi friends are serious about business and want to do business with American companies.
Most importantly, I witnessed some very interesting developments that are currently underway in the Kingdom.
First, the rise of entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs.
Behind the headlines of challenges in the Middle East, we often miss the profound changes driven by a new generation of entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs using technology to innovate and solve social problems and to navigate through their unique obstacles and opportunities.
And so much is happening from the bottom-up, again enabled by technology.
One of the most exciting stories about entrepreneurship in the Kingdom is that young people are engaged, tackling problems, and using technology to solve them.
The second major change is the proliferation of social media.
A recent survey of users in Saudi Arabia discovered that 85 percent of respondents have at least one social media account and 60 percent visit a social network daily.
Moreover, Saudis are joining Twitter faster than any other social platform.
Most interestingly, the study revealed that social users follow five commercial brands on average.
So, those of you who are planning to sell into Saudi Arabia, beware.
Through social media, Saudi companies are not bashful about sharing their impression on your products.
Businesses will need to be far more responsive to the needs of their customers!
Finally, I had the honor to meet with a group of Saudi businesswomen in Dhahran and Jeddah.
I found these talented women to be extraordinarily entrepreneur and focused.
Through them, I learned about the entrance of women, gradually entering into the workforce, and how it is slowly altering the shape of the Saudi household by transforming it into two-income families, just as it happened in the post-World War II era in our own country.
Interestingly, women outpace men in education -- 57% percent of university graduates in Saudi Arabia are women!
Women are becoming more visible in public life and in business.
The number of small technology firms in the Kingdom is on the rise, and more and more women are flocking to it at a faster pace than the rest of the world.
For example, running an Internet start-up from home is a way for an ambitious female entrepreneur to balance work with family responsibilities.
Another example, Glowork, the first dedicated organization for women employment throughout the Middle East, has recently reported its acquisition from SAS Holding, a Saudi company.
And I am proud to say that several of America's leading companies, including Pepsi, GE, and many more, are doing their part to help create more jobs for young Saudi men and women.
These are some of my impressions about Saudi Arabia.
To the American business people in the room, I encourage you to visit Saudi Arabia and experience it for yourself.
And to our Saudi friends, I am glad you are here and we welcome your investments into our country.
FDI is very important to the United States.
The United States provides unique market opportunities, whether you are selling to a niche or have applications all along the supply chain.
In the United States, everyone speaks the same language, is subject to the same laws, and believes that a single business model can reach across thousands of miles and millions of people.
Businesses operating in niche markets in Saudi Arabia can become large, dynamic firms in the United States.
And with the size and scope of the U.S. economy, opportunities for those with broader business models are even more expansive.
Americans know how to take advantage when opportunities present themselves -- it's the American spirit.
And that spirit makes the U.S. workforce a desired partner in developing successful businesses for our Saudi friends.
Two years ago, President Obama launched SelectUSA, a government-wide initiative to attract and retain direct investment in the United States.
SelectUSA operates out of ITA and we will work with companies and investors looking to establish or expand their operations in the United States.
We will connect companies with cities, states and regions where they’d like to invest.
We’ll provide ombudsman services, information, help to facilitate conversations with the Departments of State, Treasury, Defense and Homeland Security, or other entities as needed.
We’re doing this because FDI is very important to the U.S. economy and is a big source of American jobs.
In 2012, nearly $161 billion in FDI flowed into the United States.
The latest figures from 2011 indicate that U.S. affiliates of foreign firms employed 5.6 million U.S. workers.
To that end, we are very excited to be hosting the first-ever SelectUSA 2013 Investment Summit in Washington, D.C. on October 31 and November 1 of this year.
This is where companies and investors will be able to connect directly with economic development organizations from across the country and with officials from the U.S. government.
Representatives of companies from more than 60 countries have registered to attend.
I understand that there are already three Saudi Arabian companies that will be attending.
We are hoping for many more to register in the coming days.
Additionally, economic development organizations from 42 states will be there and we have four cabinet secretaries speaking and more than a dozen top CEOs joining us.
This is going to be a real world-class event that will be hosted by President Obama and Secretary Pritzker.
I encourage all of you to join us at what promises to be an outstanding summit.
To learn all about the summit, you can visit www.selectusasummit.com.
Americans and Saudis live in a world of globalization.
The pace of technological change is astounding.
The extent and speed with which innovations in one country cross borders through the exchange of goods, capital, and ideas is unprecedented.
Chief among the opportunities that globalization gives rise to is the prospect of higher growth and higher living standards.
Saudis and Americans can take advantage of globalization to create a better future for our children by joining hands in investing in each other’s countries.
All the individual parts of the U.S.-Saudi relationship, business-to-business, energy, bilateral trade and investment, government to government, and strategic cooperation, are collectively vitally important to both nations.
Let’s continue to grow that relationship in the years to come for the benefit of our two countries and citizens.
Again, my thanks to Dr. Alrabiah and the forum organizers for the invitation to speak today.
I wish each and all of you all the best.
Thank you and have a great day.
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