MCC CEO Dana J. Hyde's Remarks on Regional Integration in Africa at the AGOA Forum

Good afternoon. What a pleasure it is to be here in Gabon—with friends and partners from across this great continent and the U.S.—to celebrate the successes of AGOA over the past 15 years and chart a course for the future.

I want thank the Ambassador for Malawi’s leadership and commitment to improving infrastructure and bringing electricity to the people of Malawi.  And I want to thank and acknowledge the many MCC partners in the audience—past, present and future. Over the last decade MCC has invested over 65 percent of its portfolio—roughly 6.5 billion dollars—on the continent.  As we all know, Africa IS on the move and there is every reason to believe MCC’s focus on the continent will continue as we enter the next decade of operations.

This morning, Ambassador Froman challenged us to “stretch our thinking and our ambitions” to match this historic extension of AGOA.  I cannot think of a more critical area in which to stretch our thinking than the topic of promoting intra-Afican trade and regional integration. We know that regional economic integration can and will help reduce poverty and boost Africa’s middle class as part of a broader development strategy to foster inclusive growth. In a rapidly globalized world, integration helps create economies of scale, strengthen value chains, and ease the movement of technology and people.

And we know that there are many components to achieving successful integration: political will; strong institutional architecture; a credible rules-based governance system; and coherent and cohesive migration policies. All of these are essential ingredients. But without the physical infrastructure to move goods and services across borders, “economic communities” and “free trade zones” will fall far short of their potential.

So our focus this afternoon is on how Africa can build, improve and maintain the physical infrastructure needed to achieve regional economic integration—and how to develop the soft infrastructure to complement it.  A holistic approach—that sees “hard” and “soft” as two sides of the same coin—will play a critical role in Africa’s broader development strategy.

On the U.S. side of the question, President Obama’s Power Africa initiative is grounded in precisely that approach: bringing together the physical infrastructure and the policy framework to expand access to millions of people. As part of that effort—and beyond it—the Department of Transportation is providing key technical assistance to help African governments upgrade and harmonize transportation regulations.

And the Millennium Challenge Corporation is working with partners across this continent to help build and restore roads, bridges, ports and increasingly energy transmission and distribution facilities.  At the same time, MCC is intensively focused on supporting the policy environment that will not only sustain these investments—but lead to greater private investment.  And under the leadership of members of the U.S. Congress who are with us here today, MCC is seeking the authority to undertake regional investments—regional compacts—that would cross borders and help build needed infrastructure and trade capacity on the continent.

But let me be clear:  in all of these efforts America is supporting the incredible vision and progress of the African people.  It is your commitment that helped increase intra-African trade nearly five times over between 2001 and 2012— and it is your commitment that provides optimism for the future.

The Program for Infrastructure Development in Africa—PIDA—has embarked on an ambitious plan to develop and implement 51 priority regional infrastructure projects.  While the Tripartite Free Trade Area launched just last June seeks to harmonize trade policies across 26 countries.

Meanwhile, individual nations are taking the lead on reducing the physical and regulatory barriers with their neighbors. We heard a moment ago from the Ambassador about the impressive regional projects that Malawi is undertaking. And I just came from Senegal, an MCC partner that just completed major roadways in the north and south – connecting agricultural production centers with markets in neighboring countries.

There is clear momentum behind Africa’s push for regional economic integration.  This afternoon, let’s accept the challenge to stretch our ideas on this issue even further and help build up one of the most important pillars of economic growth on the continent.