Insights@Meridian with Dilawar Syed, Special Representative for Commercial & Business Affairs, U.S. Department of State

On June 27, 2023, the Meridian International Center hosted an Insights@Meridian event with The Honorable Dilawar A. Syed. The discussion, moderated by Ambassador Holliday, Chief Executive Officer, Meridian International Center, covered key areas of U.S. commercial investments in Africa and strengthening the competitiveness of the U.S. private sector abroad​.

Here are some top takeaways from the program:

1. Commercial Diplomacy and American Competitiveness in International Markets. Commercial diplomacy is a significant yet often overlooked aspect of U.S. foreign policy, which seeks to even the playing field for American companies and help them be more competitive by offering political, legislative, and technical support that will facilitate them to navigate and do business in foreign markets. This unique intersection between the private and public sector highlights a point made by Special Representative Dilawar A. Syed on the importance of business leaders being more actively involved in public service, as they have a lot to offer based on their unique global perspectives and worldviews. As many U.S. companies are increasingly paying more attention to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) metrics of business, they can significantly benefit local communities through the social value of their investments.

2. “The Art of Showing Up”. One thing that was made clear is that the appeal and size of the American private sector always manages to inspire many of the U.S.’s international partners. There is a lot of interest in doing business with the U.S. however, signing bilateral agreements is simply not enough. As Ambassador Holliday pointed out, for these agreements to be successful it is imperative for business representatives to “show up” and meet people, learn about the diverse business cultures, and set up markets that will facilitate further investments. This point is most apparent in the context of African markets which are eager to engage with the U.S. private sector.

3. Africa as the Present and Future. Africa is a uniquely placed continent with many resource-rich countries that have a young and growing population. In fact, it is projected that by 2050 the African continent will be home to a quarter of the world’s population. However, despite all these prospects there are still many significant hurdles to overcome in order to facilitate greater U.S. commercial investments in Africa. These include strengthening the digital infrastructure and expanding broadband access throughout the continent, expanding mobile networks, as well as significantly investing in renewable energy to help address Africa’s lacking access to power grids.

4. An American Alternative to Chinese Investments in Africa​. The U.S. private sector faces fierce competition from Chinese investments in Africa and their “no questions asked” approach to doing business with any regime type or government in the continent, with complete disregard to democratic values and human rights concerns. While this business approach may seem more appealing at first it is in fact a highly extractive one which does not necessarily add any further value to the societies where the investments are made. As a result, many countries throughout Africa are interested in working with the U.S. private sector, not only because of its size and significance, but also because of the emphasis that American businesses place in social stability, democratic governance, and human rights. This includes investing in education, sustainability, and creating equal opportunities for women.

5. Looking Towards the Future of Ukraine. Following the most recent developments in the now 16-month war in Ukraine, a lot of emphasis has been given from the international community on what a potential recovery plan will look like once the fighting stops. There is heavy focus from businesses that range across sectors, from construction and healthcare to energy and defense. This has become a truly global effort as many countries, including African nations, are interested in helping “build back better” in Ukraine to not only develop the capacity of the Ukrainian entrepreneurial sector but also to establish a more transparent and rule of law-based governmental system than those of the past. These changes will all be necessary in order to create a future for Ukraine within the European Union.

Project summary

Insights@Meridian with Dilawar Syed, Special Representative for Commercial & Business Affairs, U.S. Department of State | June 2023
Number of Visitors: 45
Number of Attendees: 45
Regions: Africa
Impact Areas: Business and Trade
Program Areas: Diplomatic Engagement
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