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Congresswoman Karen Bass

Representing the 37th District of California

African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program Forum

Saturday, August 10, 2013 - 2:34pm
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
United States

As Prepared

Your Excellency, deputy chair of the African Union. Your Excellency, first lady of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia. Excellences and distinguished guests from across the African continent. Ambassador Booth and members of the United States Delegation…good morning. It is wonderful to see so many people gathered here today. 

I am honored to join you this morning at the opening of this important forum.   I am especially pleased to have the opportunity to meet and address the many AWEP representatives and the outstanding officials on this stage and in the room who have and will continue to contribute significantly to the African continent’s economic and commercial strength.  

A couple of weeks ago, I met representatives of the 2013 class of AWEP in my hometown, Los Angeles, California.   I have to tell you we had a frank and, I believe, informative discussion about the utility of AGOA and how to make it a more effective process.

I was able to share with them my experiences on the ground in many of their countries and, most importantly, listen to them to learn about their experiences developing and conducting business.   Many of them would like to export goods to the United States but simply do not know how to do so.

Let me underscore that the effectiveness and success of AGOA reflects the joint efforts of two partners -- the nations of Africa and the United States.  Both of these principal stakeholders, which includes each one of us sitting here today, have an important role to play.  And that also includes myself, as a Member of the United States Congress.

A little over a month ago President Obama visited Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania. During that visit he announced two major initiatives:  Power Africa and Trade Africa ultimately aimed at strengthening the capacity of Africa to trade locally, regionally, and internationally.  President Obama also seized the opportunity to reiterate his support for the seamless reauthorization of AGOA.  

In Congress, I am currently co-sponsoring legislation with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce and other Members that addresses the need for electrical power in many countries of Africa.   This piece of legislation compliments U.S. initiatives recently announced by President Obama. 

All of these proposals underscore America's ongoing commitment to trade with, and invest in, the continent of Africa and reflects the strong bipartisan nature of this support.

Less than two weeks ago, African Ambassadors to the United States presented a list of recommendations for the re-authorization of AGOA.  This “Group of AGOA Ambassadors,” worked hard to develop a “coordinated position” in support of the re-authorization of AGOA [View photos here].

The commitment of these Ambassadors representing AGOA participating and aspiring countries, also speaks to a realization by African stakeholders and American stakeholders alike, that a strong AGOA can only serve to facilitate greater trade and investment with the U.S. It can be a win-win for both African nations and the U.S. if we truly recognize and seize the opportunity. But it is up to us to fully realize the potential before us.

What does this mean for you as AWEP representatives and in your capacity as respected entrepreneurs trading locally, regionally and hopefully internationally?   It means that your platform for doing business on the continent of Africa and beyond is expanding - rapidly.

It means that you must continue to play a critical role to ensure that your governments draw from your insight and experience in formulating a proactive and inclusive AGOA strategy.

 It also means that as a U.S. legislator I must be mindful of the constraints and challenges that you as entrepreneurs must face and help to leverage the opportunities.  My travel with my Congressional colleagues to several of your countries, our meetings with you here and in the U.S., and our interaction with civil society, the private sector and the African Diplomatic Corps, only help inform our efforts to reauthorize strengthened AGOA Legislation with strong bipartisan support.

I look forward to continuing to work with AWEP and to meeting with both veterans of AWEP and the current class of Representatives and I also want you to know that it helps me in so many critical and special ways to be here with you today. Thank you.