The US is committed to supporting entrepreneurship in the Middle East, according to a senior US State Department official
Key takeaway: The Joe Biden Administration is committed to supporting Middle East entrepreneurship and deepening economic cooperation between the United States and the region, said U.S. Department of State Deputy Secretary for Middle East Affairs Joey Hood.
On February 24, the Atlantic Council’s EmpowerME hosted Hood for a discussion moderated by EmpowerME Director Amjad Ahmad on US economic development priorities in the Middle East. Hood discussed entrepreneurship and innovation, how youth, women and marginalized communities can be economically empowered, as well as the challenges and opportunities that the pandemic and climate change have brought. Below is a summary of its key points.
Entrepreneurship and Innovation
- US policy should focus on economic cooperation: Hood agreed with Ahmad that US policy in the region should go beyond security partnerships to prioritize economic ties. With the perceived decline in the future value of the Gulf’s oil resources, Hood said, “a broader, more diverse relationship with the Gulf states” will benefit US interests.
- Encouraging US investment in MENA: With support from the US Department of State and the US Department of Commerce, Hood hopes that more American companies, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMBs), develop business relationships in the Middle East as connections can now be made faster by teleworking.
- Creation of jobs in the private sector: Hood confirmed that “the future social and political stability of the region” depends on the estimated three hundred million new jobs that will be needed in the region by 2050. Going beyond the traditional route of government employment is crucial: “We need to turn to entrepreneurs to set up SMEs to create these jobs. “
- Trust between governments and citizens: In addition to economic prosperity and socio-economic development, Hood argued that trust is “one of the greatest missing elements for stability in the Middle East.” Governments must win the trust of their citizens by “making every effort to create economic opportunities for all”. In turn, governments must trust the private sector and use it as a motor for job creation and growth, rather than as an instrument of patronage.
- Recommendations for regional policy makers: Hood urged governments to cut red tape, develop more business-friendly investment laws, improve bankruptcy reform, and support enforcement of contracts, public procurement practices, and intellectual property rights (IPR) protection. He stressed that “we need to see a change because protecting intellectual property rights is essential for knowledge-based economies.”
Thank you @StateDept_NEA Asst. Secretary Joey Hood for speaking to @AmjadAhmadVC about US economic development priorities in MENA. We are happy that you are enjoying our EmpowerME Conversations podcast and we look forward to your support!
– Atlantic Council for the Middle East (@ACMideast) initiatives on February 24, 2021
Empowering youth, women and marginalized communities
- Human-to-human connections: Hood was committed to unleashing creativity and innovation by bringing budding entrepreneurs and leaders from the Middle East and North Africa together with their American counterparts to learn from their success stories and then apply those lessons at home. He argued that youth exchanges and overseas study opportunities are a critical form of US soft power and encourage close business relationships.
- Participation of women in the workforce: Hood noted that Egypt’s GDP could be 29 percent higher, the UAE’s 31 percent and Lebanon’s 28 percent higher if the economic gap between the sexes were eliminated, underscoring the importance of that Talent of working-age women as part of capitalizing on the region’s economic recovery after COVID-19. He highlighted two projects of the State Department with the American University in Beirut: The Knowledge is Power Index of the Middle East Partnership Initiative and the support and acceleration of the inclusion of women in the workforce project.
- Cultural changes to promote innovation: Hood expressed hope that parents would support young people’s growing interest in entrepreneurship and the private sector, despite the financial risks involved: Failure is “absolutely necessary to an entrepreneurship ecosystem, because without failure there really is none Entrepreneurship. ”
Challenges and opportunities from the pandemic and climate change
- International cooperation in the fight against COVID-19: While stressing that fighting the pandemic at home is a top priority for the Biden government, Hood also acknowledged that coronavirus strains and mutations around the world pose a national security threat to the US. As a result, the U.S. government has pledged to make two $ 2 billion contributions to COVAX and to work with other nations to improve the way vaccines are made, supplied, and distributed.
- New jobs to combat climate change: Hood shared his optimism about American and Middle Eastern companies joining forces to move away from fossil fuels, build a knowledge-based economy in the region, and maximize contributions to the goals of the Paris Agreement. He noted that the solar and technology sectors hold particular promise for economic diversification and job creation in the Middle East.
China’s role in the region and the US plan to counter their growing influence
- China’s success is stolen: Casting back the perception that China’s soft power is growing and that they are innovative, Hood said, “We know they are [China] have a large commercial espionage program and we know that many of the innovations they allegedly made were actually stolen from companies in Europe and the US. “
- The United States remains more attractive than China: Hood noted that the average young person in the Middle East is far more likely to dream of studying or working in the United States than in China. Hood distinguished China with its policies of “blocking access to the Internet” and “political repression”.
- The United States is a more reliable partner: Hood accused China of using “economic coercion” and “debt-trap diplomacy” in external relations. In contrast, he said the US was “not a fair weather friend” and had a track record of helping partners in their time of need, as the upcoming thirtieth anniversary of Kuwait’s liberation should remind us. The US, not China, led a coalition to liberate Kuwait, Hood noted.
Allison Holle is Program Assistant at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for Middle East and Middle East Initiatives. Follow her @AllisonHolle.
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