No matter what happens in these countries, they need jobs, they need investment, they need access to technology and they need the ability to interact with U.S. business and government. You realize it’s not a linear exercise; there will be ups and downs. As Secretary Kerry and Secretary Clinton and the president have always said, “You can’t disengage.”
The people who are in the middle of it all tell you that you are being helpful and they need you. They don’t want you to go away. We do as much as we can. In a scenario of limited resources and insecurity, there is still much you can do.
Q. For example, in a country such as Tunisia, what can you do?
Tunisia was a classic example of a country with a large amount of young people — 30 to 40 percent — and huge unemployment issues — not just regular unemployment but structural unemployment, meaning that the kids coming out of university weren’t getting the right education and weren’t being taught the things employers wanted. So what we’ve been working on is helping them pay for their development by better administration of taxes and also working on entrepreneurship by bringing U.S. entrepreneurs to Tunisia, and if you can’t do that because of security issues, bringing Tunisian entrepreneurs to the U.S., so that they can find investors, mentors, partners. Everyone everywhere in the world, no matter how tough it is, wants to be the next Silicon Valley.
When it’s not possible [to bring in entrepreneurs], we are trying to create linkages through websites or meeting elsewhere.
Even in the very worst cases, you can always work around the edges, you can always try to do something to be helpful because they do not want you to disengage.
Q. What has been the high point or what have you been most proud of during your tenure?
What I’m proudest of is how we brought economics to the forefront of the State Department in what Secretary Clinton used to call economic statecraft. The State Department was traditionally seen as a political arm. Some of this was just the recession. We needed to do what we could to help U.S. companies export and sell, so we were asked to put economics at the forefront of what we did.
I’m very proud of the work we’re doing in Mexico [with the U.S.-Mexico High Level Economic Dialogue]. It’s basically our response to the Mexican request to elevate economics to the same level as security. There was a feeling that we were, at least publicly, focusing too much attention on drugs and thugs. President Enrique Peña Nieto came in and said we’d like to find ways to streamline our borders, find an agenda of more cooperation on telecoms and entrepreneurship and to become more competitive as a NAFTA region vis-à-vis the rest of the world.
Q. Where else has there been success?
Turkey. It’s the place where I went to the most. I saw Turkey as a country that was highly respected in the Middle East, a democratic country, a Muslim country, and that could act in many ways as an ally, a validator, a multiplier. And it was a country that was looking to strengthen its economic relations with the U. S.
In the last three years, our trade has doubled with Turkey, but moreover we have a continued conversation with Turkey on areas of cooperation such as strengthening their financial sector and strengthening their property rights regime. Electricity is a big need in Turkey, and we’d like to get more U.S. companies there.
Q. Where do we currently stand with the TPP? [the Trans Pacific Partnership, an Asia-Pacific trade agreement with countries that share U.S. economic values and priorities, is now under negotiation.]
We have 15 countries now, including the last one, Japan. Forty percent of world trade is TPP.
We are hoping to finalize it by the end of the year. There are still a number of big issues. As you know the Mexicans came in a few months ago and the Canadians did as well. All these countries have been quite helpful and gotten up to speed really fast.
We are insisting on a gold standard to protect workers’ rights as we open up markets for U.S. goods. It has to be a win-win.
Q. You’ve become a road warrior. Any tips?
Just what your mother told you, sleep and exercise, and don’t drink too much.