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Remarks by Ambassador Demetrios J. Marantis
Deputy United States Trade Representative
“Grains of Paradise, Seeds of Hope and Prosperity”
February 24, 2011
*As Prepared for Delivery*
“Liberia has been on my mind since I first tasted its unique flavor. Not long ago, I bit down on a melegueta pepper, and enjoyed a pleasant and warm spice like no other. As its flavor lingered, I learned how this pepper was dubbed the ‘grain of paradise’ hundreds of years ago, and that Liberia and its neighbors were christened Africa’s ‘pepper coast.’ I was told that England’s Queen Elizabeth I flavored her drinks with grains of paradise, and that this pepper native to Liberia triggered heated debate in the British parliament under King George III. Today, grains of paradise flavor Scandinavian akavit, Belgian and American beer, Dutch gin, and dishes around the world.
“These grains of paradise are still cultivated and grow wild in Liberia. But I am here to see and foster Liberian seeds of another kind – seeds of hope and prosperity. These seeds are already taking root, planted by ambitious entrepreneurs, wise leadership, informed policymakers, and everyday Liberians intent on a better future for their children and grandchildren. Together Liberia and the United States can tend these seeds until they sprout and grow, and plant new ones with new ideas, new ambitions, and greater cooperation.
“I am mindful of what Liberia and Liberians have endured during the years of conflict. We all know the facts on the ground are daunting. Liberia remains one of the most impoverished countries in the world despite seven years of reconstruction efforts. Most Liberians live on less than a dollar a day, with limited access to health care, education or other government services. Despite modest growth, your economy is hampered by high unemployment, low literacy, poor health, corruption, and the absence of basic infrastructure. Exports remain a small part of your economy. Recent instability in neighboring countries like Cote d’Ivoire threatens what you have achieved.
“But I am also aware that this is a new day and a promising new era for Liberia. The problems of the past do not blind me to the important work Liberians have accomplished since you won peace in your country. The recent tragedies and tough facts on the ground do not wash away our vision of a better future for Liberia and its people, or diminish our energy and dedication to achieving that future.
“A better future for Liberia begins with the seeds of hope and prosperity that are taking root in your country. The United States is contributing to Liberia’s long-term security by training security forces. Peace Corps volunteers have returned. And the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has its second largest African program in Liberia supporting infrastructure, education, HIV/AIDS prevention, health, rule of law, and civil society. Liberia was selected for a Millennium Challenge Corporation program, and the funds will go towards helping educate girls, improve land rights, and strengthen trade policy.
“More important is the work Liberians themselves are doing. Under the leadership of President Johnson Sirleaf, you have set the course for reform and renewal. You have decreased corruption, increased transparency, and bolstered the rule of law. Liberia remains open for foreign investment and has taken steps to improve the business environment. You have welcomed entrepreneurs and supported investors like Chid Liberty, whose Liberian Women’s sewing project employs seamstresses in good work conditions for a decent wage, to produce world-class products for export. These are impressive accomplishments and the international community has taken notice. In fact, the World Bank listed Liberia as one of the 10 most improved business reformers in its Doing Business 2010 report. That is a major achievement, and I congratulate you, Minister Beysolow, and other Liberian leaders, on that accomplishment.
“Seeds of hope and prosperity also lie in Liberia’s natural wealth. President Johnson Sirleaf has signaled that your country could become an oil exporter within a decade. Managed well, oil and other natural resource exports can help Liberia diversify its economy and create sustained prosperity. Seeds of hope and prosperity are also in Liberia’s agricultural potential, which remains largely untapped. Developing your agricultural sector could lower Liberia’s food import bill, seize on your comparative advantage in rubber, cocoa, and palm oil, and put unemployed Liberians to work.
“With work, care, and patience, these seeds of hope and prosperity can flourish, but realizing Liberia’s potential will be a long and difficult effort. It is not an effort you must make alone. I am in Liberia representing President Obama and the United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk. This Administration is determined to do its part to help build a better future for Liberia. USTR is intent on working with the Liberian people and its government to foster long-term and sustainable growth by strengthening our bilateral trade and investment ties.
“More than three years ago, the United States and Liberia signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, or TIFA. Our TIFA is the key forum and building block for our economic relationship. But a TIFA does not produce outcomes on its own. A successful TIFA needs vision at the outset, follow-through in the medium term, and a sustained pushed until we reach our goals. Liberians should be proud of the level of ambition and amount of work Minister Beysolow and her colleagues have focused on the U.S.-Liberia TIFA, setting an example not only for our other bilateral work, but also for the United States’ other TIFA partners.
“I am also here to help Liberia take full advantage of the unilateral trade preferences the United States offers under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, or AGOA. AGOA provides duty free access for 98 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s exports to the United States. Liberia has yet to begin taking full advantage of AGOA. Together we are changing that. The United States will continue to provide support and technical assistance to help make AGOA work for Liberia.
“That is why today, I am proud to announce tangible progress -- United States has granted Liberia an apparel visa under AGOA. After months of work by Minister Beysolow, USTR’s Connie Hamilton, and the private sector, Ambassador Kirk last month determined that Liberia has adopted an effective textile monitoring and control regime that qualifies Liberian textile and apparel exports to receive for duty-free treatment when they enter the United States. This apparel visa will help make Liberian textile and apparel products more competitive in the United States, and it is an achievement that marks a promising new and exciting chapter in our trade relationship.
“Growing Liberia’s economy and increasing its competitiveness is not a zero-sum game in which your neighbors must lose if you gain. On the contrary, the more Liberia works with its West African neighbors to integrate regionally, the more competitive all of your economies will become locally, regionally, and globally. Working together, West African economies can specialize, build regional supply chains, and create economies of scale. And as you do, you will attract more foreign investment and opportunities to create jobs and grow your economies.
“Africa’s regional trade hubs provide a concrete example of this kind of cooperation. Earlier this week, I visited the West African trade hub in Accra, Ghana, one of three hubs funded in part by USAID. I met with trade hub officials and heard dozens of success stories of Ghanaian firms exporting to the United States. I even met with exporters of shea butter, cashews, apparel, and handmade home decor that the hub experts helped get ‘export ready.’ I want to help create similar successes in Liberia, and I look forward to discussing with Minister Beysolow and all of you on how the trade hub and other technical assistance can help Liberia thrive and grow.
“Ambassador Kirk and I, together with the Administration as a whole, look forward to working closely with Liberia, in a spirit of partnership. We have much to do and achieve. We are off to a very productive and encouraging start.
“After my visit to Monrovia, I am confident that soon my sensory memory of Liberia will be not just the taste of hot and spicy ‘grains of paradise,’ but the sweet smell of success, from our close trade and investment partnership and cooperation.”