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Remarks by Ambassador Demetrios Marantis at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce

October 7, 2009
U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Washington, D.C.

*As Prepared for Delivery*


Many Americans have glimpsed Central Asia through another person's eyes and heard another person's tale. Some, like me, read Solzhenitzyn's Cancer Ward in high school, and remember Oleg Kostoglotov's exile in Ush-Terek and the hospital in Tashkent. Other Americans with a thirst for history read Hopkirk's 19th Century tale of imperial ambition, intrigue, and military adventure in The Great Game. Still others travelled to Central Asia vicariously, perhaps with Paul Theroux on the night train from Ashgabat to Mary, through Tashkent to Delhi, as described in Ghost Train to the Eastern Star. And many Americans have embraced the 13th Century Sufi poet Rumi, spiritually uplifted and inspired by his popular poetry.

But these are neither the stories that bring me here today nor the pictures of Central Asia I wish Americans to see. My concern is a different tale and a new picture. It is a story that begins with a new friendship, hope, and a bright future. After this promising beginning, the pages are blank, the story yet to be written. These blank pages sit before all of you and me, waiting to be filled. We hold the pen. We will tell the story. We are the authors of a new story of Central Asia and the United States.

What is this new story? Is it a story of the past or a story of the future? Will this tale be steeped in history past, or will it make history? Will it be a short trip of a few courageous souls, or will it be a longer journey of a group of like-minded adventurers? Will this new story inspire and uplift its reader or will it be a predictable narrative soon forgotten?

Only we have the answers to these questions. And over this week we will begin to answer them. We have come together today due to the generosity of the United States Chamber of Commerce and its member companies. I am here today as the Deputy United States Trade Representative, representing Ambassador Ron Kirk and President Barack Obama.

It is my distinct pleasure to welcome the Minister of Foreign Economic Relations Elyor Ganiev of Uzbekistan, Minister of Economy and Development Bashimmyrat Hojamammedov of Turkmenistan, Minister of Economic Development and Trade Ghulomjon Bobozoda of Tajikistan, Vice Minister of Economic Development and Trade Aziz Aaliev of Kyrgyzstan, Vice Minister of Industry and Trade Zhanar Aitzhanova of Kazakhstan, and Minster of Commerce and Industry Wahidullah Shahrani of Afghanistan. I am also pleased to welcome representatives from our international partner institutions based here and afar, as well as representatives of the United States Agency for International Development, the Department of Defense, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Commerce, the Trade and Development Agency, and the Department of State.

So many distinguished and capable people are not in one place at one time to contemplate the past or revel in the present. We are here to create the future. A future that is unprecedented and historic. We are here to mold a future that enhances the economic ties among the United States, Central Asia, and Afghanistan.

Progress towards that future is already underway. In 2004, the United States signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, or TIFA, with all five Central Asian republics. Under this TIFA, there have been annual TIFA Council meetings to promote greater trade and investment between the United States and Central Asia. We had some successes, but over the past five years together we have identified what we could do better. This year we are doing two things to revamp our approach.

First, we are adding a mid-year working group meeting as a means to actively follow up on the issues and initiatives raised during our annual meeting. A mid-year meeting will keep all of us on task and focused on our commitments. And we hope to see more successes.

Second, the United States, together with all of you, recognized that a uniform approach in the region will not allow us to respond to the nuances and differences in goals and objectives in the region. Therefore, we are establishing bilateral channels for dialogue to complement the regional approach. Tomorrow we will hold our regional TIFA talks as in the past, but throughout the week we are meeting separately with each delegation to launch bilateral talks tailored to your unique goals, challenges, and ideas.

Bilateral and regional talks will only yield successes if we dedicate ourselves to domestic economic reforms. And that domestic policy work is not just yours, it is also ours. When President Obama took office nine months ago, the U.S. economy was in crisis. Since then, the Obama Administration has worked with Congress to spur economic recovery and lay a new foundation for our economy. Together we have worked to give our workers the skills and education they need to compete, invest in renewable energy and the jobs of the future, and make health care affordable for families and businesses. These and other domestic economic reforms promise to make America's economy more competitive and prosperous for generations to come.

America's domestic economic reforms are also a commitment to Central Asia and the global economy. For an America more competitive and prosperous at home is also an America that can be more ambitious and engaged with its economic partners around the world. This engagement will not only benefit Central Asia and other regions, enhancing their exports, creating jobs and raising standards of living, but it will also create more jobs at home by increasing U.S. exports to the world.

As Americans work on domestic economic reforms and engage internationally, so must all of you. Your past hard word is already showing results and giving future work momentum. Just look at the World Bank's "Doing Business 2010" report. Central Asian countries are climbing the rankings, and some are even highlighted as top reformers.

We are dedicated to helping you climb even higher with our work in the TIFA and USAID's programs for business environment improvement, regional trade liberalization, and customs improvement. As your reforms show results, a more competitive Central Asia and Afghanistan will win plaudits, trade, and investment from companies and investors around the world. The more Central Asian economies work together, the more U.S. and other international companies will be attracted by economies of scale in the region.

Our governments are not alone in our work and our vision for our economic ties. We are hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce this morning because U.S. businesses are also interested in finding solutions, to getting things done, and to creating good-paying jobs for workers in all of our countries. This kind of public-private partnership must be the foundation of our efforts and is indispensable to our success.

We must reform our trade and investment policies for our mutual prosperity, but also because good economic policy is also good foreign and security policy. Central Asia's logistical support for U.S. and NATO forces contributes to building a stable Afghanistan. But we can do more. A new initiative we are undertaking through the TIFA is aimed at increasing opportunities for the countries in the region to supply goods and services to U.S. operations. This effort can create new openings for investment and job creation in the region and, in the process, contribute to attaining our security objectives. USTR is working with the Departments of Defense and Commerce, USAID, and the Trade and Development Agency (TDA) to achieve this goal. I look forward to fruitful discussions on these issues at tomorrow's TIFA Council meeting.

I am delighted that the Ministers from Central Asia and Afghanistan are here with me today. I look forward to your remarks, and to our further discussions this week and over the coming weeks and months. That all of you have travelled to Washington today shows your interest in and dedication to working with each other and the United States in this common enterprise. I hope that you will leave Washington with the certainty of knowing Ambassador Kirk, President Obama, and I share your dedication and determination.

Together, we have the opportunity to tell a new story, to shape a new common future. It will not be easy. But we must work hard today, holding tight to the future goal we wish to achieve. We are like the man, the carpenter, and the tanner Rumi describes in his poem "Disciplines."

"Watch the man beating a rug.
He is not mad at it.
He wants to loosen the layers of dirt.

A carpenter saws and chisels a piece of wood,
because he knows how he wants to use it.

Curing a hide, the tanner
rubs acid and all manner of filth.
This makes a beautiful soft leather.

What does the half-finished hide know?
Every hard thing that happens
works on you like that."

Thank you very much.