About the AmCham MENA CouncilIn its efforts to strengthen trade and economic ties between the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region and the United States, the American Chambers of Commerce in Egypt, the Lebanon, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria signed a protocol launching the AmCham Middle East North Africa (MENA) Regional Council initiative in Beirut, Lebanon in July 2005. An initial MoU was signed at the conclusion of the American Jordanian Expo (AJEX) Conference in Amman, Jordan in December 2004.
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Elizabeth Dibble and U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman represented the American government at the signing of the protocol in Beirut.
The idea behind the Council is to foster regional cooperation, while coordinating efforts among AmChams to promote greater business opportunities between the United States and the Middle East North Africa region. The Council's goals and values include commitment to free trade, opening of regional markets, protection of intellectual property rights, and accession to international agreements. Free trade agreements (FTAs) between MENA countries and the United States are also a priority for the Council.
In 2006 AmCham Bahrain joined the council, followed by AmCham Abu Dhabi in December 2009 and AmCham Palestine in 2012.
The President of AmCham Abu Dhabi is Chairman of the Council, and the President of AmCham Bahrain is the Council's Vice-Chairman. Additionally, the Regional Coordination Office for the Council resides with AmCham Egypt.
Remarks by Ambassador Jeffrey D. Feltman during the signing of the MENA Protocol.Congratulations on the signing of this Memorandum of Understanding, joining the American Chambers of Commerce in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Tunis, Algiers, and Lebanon together in mutual cooperation to expand economic growth and opportunities through the enhancement of trade and investment. I hope this document becomes the catalyst for a regional partnership to promote economic and political reform.
As American Chamber of Commerce members you have already affirmed your commitment to enhanced business opportunities. To achieve those opportunities, you will need to work to design a new MENA business model—one that is predicated on efficiency, honesty and accountability. While there is no “one-size fits all" pattern, I would guess that you—the representatives of five dynamic business communities—share common frustrations and confront similar obstacles. I hope that as a result of the Memorandum of Understanding you sign today you will not only increase trade and investment activity among your members, but also achieve progress towards regional economic reform.
When I spoke to the American Lebanese Chamber of Commerce last month, I noted how much had happened in Lebanon in the nine months between my first and second appearances before you. I challenged you to work with unity of purpose to achieve genuine reform, particularly in Lebanon's economic structure. I recommended that you look beyond confessional and sectarian differences to set goals to put Lebanon on a path of genuine reform. I applaud the initiative of the Lebanese Economic Associations in proposing a plan for reform and their willingness to monitor government progress on its own reform commitments.
The members of the American Lebanese Chamber represent the full diversity of Lebanon's population—yet are united in a singular commitment to increasing economic opportunity. To increase economic opportunity, however, there must be a change in the way business is conducted in Lebanon. Reform measures can't, however, be imposed from outside—they must be organic and indigenous. Fortunately in Lebanon—all the expertise is at hand.
The American Lebanese Chamber of Commerce can play a key role in promoting essential economic reform. Many of the Chamber's members have lived, studied and worked in the U.S. You know American business practices and have worked in America's competitive and dynamic free market economy. At the very least, you have done business with American companies and understand their expectations. This experience has, undoubtedly, exposed you to the interaction between business and non-governmental organizations, business and industrial associations, unions, the media and the government institutions at the local, state and federal level. As a vital part of Lebanese civil society, you have the role—nay the responsibility—to set the tone for how business is conducted in Lebanon.
Your knowledge, skills and experience are needed now, to help Lebanon achieve the essential economic reform that will enable political reform to take root. For without economic reform, there will be no economic growth. And lack of economic opportunity—particularly for the young—represents the most potent poison to kill the growth of democracy and freedom.
Successful members of Lebanon's dynamic business community—such as yourselves—should be contributing to Lebanon's “To do" list. But you can also provide the expertise to construct solutions, the scrutiny to ensure accountability and the initiative to promote action. I challenge you to: Play an active role in advocating new policies with Members of Parliament—providing objective information based on free-market economics; raise awareness about inefficiencies—through the media and other outreach; and share your expertise on barriers to entry and impediments to expansion. Most importantly, I hope you will model honest business practices of transparency and accountability, denouncing corruption, nepotism, and sectarianism when it distorts opportunities in the market place.
Let me give you an issue on which I believe AmCham involvement could be beneficial—and that is Lebanon's bid to the World Trade Organization. Free and open trade—the goal of the WTO—promotes economic growth. Recognizing this, the Government of Lebanon requested U.S. Government assistance to prepare for its accession to the WTO. Through USAID, the U.S. government has provided technical assistance. But this isn't enough. The private sector—particularly members of the dynamic Lebanese-American business community—needs to make the case for WTO membership to the Lebanese people. WTO membership is an essential signal to the rest of the world that Lebanon is open to investment and meets international investment standards. This is an advertisement for Lebanon that directly benefits AmCham business community members and they need to get out front and make the case.
As I look at the audience gathered here today, I see a reflection of a very troubling statistic—that Lebanese women are not represented in business commensurate to their abilities, education and training. With women accounting for 50 percent of Lebanese university graduates, Lebanon is rich in human resource potential. But Lebanon looses this creativity, energy and talent when it slams the doors to business and politics on women; when tradition and discrimination block opportunity. American women may still hit a glass ceiling—and the percentage of elected officials at the local, state and federal level is still not at parity with the 51 percent of the American population who are women. Nevertheless, the participation of American women as equal partners in business and politics strengthens our institutions, enriches our economy and lends credibility to our commitment to equal rights and opportunity. Having met numerous talented, energetic and well-educated Lebanese women, I know that Lebanon, too, would benefit. I hope that AmCham and its members can be assertive in recruiting talented women to the business world and that this will lead, in turn, to an increase of women in politics.
All of us here today recognize the challenges that lie ahead for Lebanon. But, you, the members of the Lebanese American Chamber of Commerce, have already demonstrated your willingness and ability to participate in the forward march to a more prosperous, democratic Lebanon. AmCham hosted the lunch that gave birth to the Lebanese Economic Associations and their positive role in making proposals for reform. Today you—with regional partners from Morocco, Egypt, Tunis, Algiers, and Jordan—have committed yourselves and your organizations to work together to enhance economic opportunities. Our work together on the third annual Made in America trade fair, November 7-9, will showcase American goods and services and highlight the success and vitality of our Lebanese-American business relationship. These are positive and inspiring steps and I applaud you. The United States will work with you, and with the people of Lebanon, to achieve the independence, democracy, stability and prosperity you both desire and deserve.