Administrator Samantha Power at a Press Conference India Institute of Technology—Delhi

Speeches Shim

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you very much for joining today. I'll actually just open the floor for questions, since you've heard enough from me already.

JOHN SLOVER: Perfect. Let's go ahead and get started. Right here.

REPORTER: Hi. This is Achan from the Times of India. Could you talk to us a little bit about the nature of discussions with Indian interlocutors on Sri Lanka, particularly Mister -- with Mr. Jaishankar? And also, you know, if you could expand a little bit on your remarks earlier that big deals with Sri Lanka -- with China, rather -- between China and Sri Lanka are responsible for the present economic crisis which Sri Lanka is facing. Thank you.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you. Well, I'm not going to comment on the diplomatic discussions I had. But I will say that I think that we in the United States and the Indian -- we in the Biden Administration and the Indian government here are deeply concerned, of course, by the economic collapse and crisis that has befallen the Sri Lankan people. We have over these last several months been in sustained high-level dialogue about how best to support the Sri Lankan people. And we've taken each -- I think, in parallel -- very important steps. I think the $3.5 billion in the lines of credit that the Indian government have provided have been absolutely invaluable. The humanitarian assistance and development assistance that USAID is flooding in and that the United States government is flooding in, I think, again, performs as well as a vital role.

But, fundamentally, it's also incredibly important that Sri Lanka's creditors, come to the table, all who are involved in those roles, in order - and it's important that the Sri Lankan government itself course corrects on so many of the economic and political decisions that have been made over recent years that have contributed to this crisis.

In terms of Beijing, I mean just to be very clear, what I stated was that the crisis stems from a whole host of factors, everything from financial mismanagement by the prior government, corruption, some unwise agricultural policy decisions, and the COVID crisis of course, the terrorist attacks that occurred in Sri Lanka along with COVID, over this period driving away tourists or deterring tourists. Those were a factor. But as well, incurring so much debt to undertake, large infrastructure projects that can be, of course, beneficial to the people of any nation. I mean, so many nations are hungering for infrastructure investments, and rightly so. They're key. Infrastructure is a critical vehicle for economic development.

But when the price of receiving financing, receiving loans carries with it profound infringements on one's own kind of sovereignty and independence, and very significant interest rates, that's going to prove problematic over time.

REPORTER: Thank you, Administrator Power. I'm Emily Schmall with the New York Times and you alluded in your speech to the fact that both India and the U.S. are pluralistic societies. But as you no doubt know, India has a record that is eroding on media freedoms and a problem with hate speech, including among members of the ruling party that has fomented religion-targeted violence. The perception among some here is that the U.S. hasn't taken a stronger stance on that because India is such a critical partner in a lot of global tumult at the moment and also, with its strategy to counter China. Do you think that the U.S. should take a stronger stand, that there should be more open discussion? But, I mean, and also, do you think that that's a fair characterization, that the U.S. is trying to sort of hedge on that because it needs India in this region?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, let me say no I don't think it is a fair characterization. Second, India is an absolutely critical actor, not only in the Indo-Pacific, but we think in all over the world. And again, my remarks were an attempt to capture just where that is going and how much potential lies in India's leadership beyond its borders, drawing on so many of the lessons, and the insights, and the dynamism that it shows at home. Third, there's no question that a major source of India's strength has been the potency and the vibrancy of its civil society. The pluralism, the debates that have occurred here over so many decades that play themselves out in, media debates -- rollicking media debates. And so, as I indicated, we see headwinds in the face of freedoms in many, many parts of the world and because we have seen India's civil society and its free press, free speech, free association - even something that is something that I admire greatly and have seen other countries around the world try to emulate, which is India's right to information law. That that is a big part of what so many other countries around the world are eager to have themselves, is that kind of vibrancy.

So, it is incredibly important in this country and in the United States, for human rights to be respected, for diversity to be celebrated. And of course, that is part of the dialogue that we have with the Indian government. It's also something that we are struggling with, as I indicated and as back in the United States.

REPORTER: This is Kallol Bhattacherjee from The Hindu. In your speech, you referred to [inaudible], and also hinted that India should step in whenever there is food insecurity in the world. But do you recognize the problem, the challenge that India faces itself? It has a population of 1.35 billion people. And the government of India apparently has the responsibility of ensuring food security for its own people. So, you know, do you recognize the challenges the Government of India has that first, it has to address the food security issues inside the country? And secondly, you have referred to private capital in the agriculture business. And Indian farmers have been protesting against, you know, increasing private capital in the agricultural business. So, do you think you are siding with the wrong side of history by talking about private capital?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you. So, on your first question, I actually did address that in my remarks. I think in a - I hope at least in a fairly nuanced way. So, the way you, I think, formulated the question is does India have a responsibility to step in everywhere there is food insecurity? That is not the argument that you heard from me. No country either has that responsibility to step in everywhere, nor does any country have the means to do so. What I spoke about generally is how much India has to offer and how, in a number of circumstances and in a growing number of circumstances, India has stepped up to exercise leadership, to provide humanitarian assistance, as we just talked about - to provide, for example, lines of credit to Sri Lanka in its great hour of need.

I think it's fair to say that every country, of course, has a sovereign responsibility to look out for the well-being of its people. Governments are elected in democracies to do just that and all of us know that. I think, in our experience, we have seen that export restrictions, by and large, at least over time, have not proven beneficial domestically or at least that there have been negative side effects. Or in certain circumstances, they have been counterproductive. But every sovereign nation, again, is going to look out, of course, for the welfare of its citizens and not only as I indicated in my remarks, but as USAID programming itself underscores, we are all dedicated to the cause of India's continued economic growth and equitable growth. And reaching, again, those populations in India, those communities that have not yet had the opportunity to benefit and to escape - to benefit from economic growth or to escape poverty. So, that cause animates the entire Indian trajectory, and it's an absolutely critical cause, and one we not only respect, but we applaud.

I think one of the important features of the export restrictions is that there are exceptions being made for humanitarian assistance in circumstances where there is a belief here that, again, the need to deliver for the Indian people can be achieved alongside, in select circumstances, being in a position to deliver, for example, on prior commitments that had been made before the ban went into effect, or in circumstances, that are grave humanitarian emergencies, as we see in various parts of the world, to be able to make exceptions. So, we are in constant dialogue and communication. The World Food Programme is in constant dialogue and communication with government officials, and those dialogues are going to continue and I would expect to intensify in the months ahead.

REPORTER: Mahan Sadan from [inaudible]. How much there [inaudible] over the Russians blocking the Ukrainian port while there is a deal? How hopeful you are that this deal will work out, given that recently there have been instances of Russian missile attack?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: You covered it all in your question. I mean, first the stakes. The stakes are extremely high. Twenty million metric tons of grains on which the world's global food supply is going to be influenced are trapped. They remain trapped. USAID and the United States, and some of our other European partners have been working side-by-side with Ukrainian farmers and with Ukrainian government officials to try to figure out by rail, or by road, or by river. Is there a way to get some share of those trapped crops out of the country? And oils as well, I should mention. Because countries like Lebanon and Egypt depend, more than 80 percent of their wheat comes from Ukraine, those two countries.

I mentioned Somalia. It's facing a famine. It's on the brink of a famine and more than 50 percent of its wheat comes from Ukraine. So, we have made some inroads in hustling. It's the Ukrainians who are doing the hustling to now get up to getting somewhere short of 2 million metric tons this last month out these other ways. But it is much more expensive and it is way less than the countries that have depended on these grains have traditionally received. But also, the fact that 20 million metric tons remain trapped have driven up global food prices.

And, I've been in Zambia, Malawi, Kenya, and Somalia over the course of the last month. The pain is palpable. The Indian people feel that pain. They feel those food prices going up. All around the world, inflation is really one of the top topics of conversation. So, it is absolutely critical that Putin and his forces let the grains go. Those are the stakes, and they are life-and-death stakes, honestly. Second, the deal we have seen the United Nations and the Secretary General personally engaging over many, many weeks. This is not a deal that came together overnight. Russia has imposed a lot of restrictions on the modalities and the inspection, process, and so forth. And those details are still being worked through for sure. But the fact that the Russian Federation came to the table and made the agreement is a better circumstance than had they not. But it is just a step, operationally, in actually securing the liberation of those grains and those oils. The only way that food will be released to the global market, is if Russia is willing to not only allow the ships to pass, but not to attack the Ukrainians either in the ships or in the ports, or on the roads, whereby these crops are being transported.

And so far, what we've seen from the Russian Federation is a string of lies and broken promises. And above all, a string of months and months of devastating attacks on civilian infrastructure, from schools, to medical facilities, to theaters and now, most recently, to port infrastructure. We are heartened that the Ukrainians seem so determined to move out and to try to operationalize this deal, notwithstanding this - what could have been a grave blow to implementation. But, I think every day is a new day - a new day in making progress operationally but also a new day in which Russia has to respect the terms of the deal. And all countries, not only the United States, but India and all countries. It is really important for the welfare of the world that we each hold Russia to the terms of the deal.

MR. SLOVER: Thank you very much. We have time for one final question.

REPORTER: Good afternoon, Ambassador Power. My name is Piyush, and I'm from Republic TV. I just wanted to ask you that, you have been to India and you know, you have mentioned in your keynote address that - how climate change and food security are directly related. So, I just want to know from you that - how do you see India providing solutions to both these challenges on short-term measures as well as long-term measures?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you so much. Well, the short term is immensely challenging. I mean, one of the things that actually, I think, other developing countries can learn a lot of from - and this is something that, I had the chance to discuss with Mr. Jaishankar - is the social safety nets that have been provided. For example, through the COVID period, but also that digital infrastructure that exists, that will allow people to get topped up. Also when other kinds of shocks hit. Again, I can tell you, from my travel to countries that are just facing almost indescribable food insecurity at the moment, how important social safety nets either provided, let's say, by the World Food Programme, funded by USAID and other donors, or better yet, if a country can afford it or if it can have the fiscal space to make it happen from governments themselves because it's very important for the credibility of governments as well, and for the effectiveness of governments to be able to deliver in moments of need for people who are experiencing shocks like the ones that climate change can induce.

So, I think the short-term is some combination of humanitarian assistance -and again, understanding that India still has a lot of mouths to feed here domestically. The more that India can be involved in both trading commodities and at some point in its trajectory, when, again, as a sovereign country, it deems it appropriate to be involved in assistance would be - it would be great to have India at the table. But there's plenty that can be done short of straight relief because of all of this know-how. And that we're in countries that are living at or beneath the poverty line, there is still a way to reach individuals and to prevent things from getting even worse in a crisis.

I think, in the longer term, the most fertile - forgive the pun - but the most fertile ground for partnership lies in a combination of - with regard to climate change - lies in a combination of the clean energy partnerships. And here, I realize I didn't address the second question about the role of the private sector. I mean, right now, if global temperatures, as you all know, rise one degree, it will cost India 3 percent of its GDP. But there is not enough public sector financing on Planet Earth, even if every country becomes triply as dedicated to public financing and foreign assistance to mitigate carbon emissions at the pace that we need for the planet.

And fortunately, the private sector has to come to believe that it can make money in the area of spreading renewables and putting in place technologies and infrastructure that doesn't emit carbon in the manner that we have been doing collectively for far too long. And so, I would say, to the question about the private sector, it's absolutely indispensable. It's not nice to have. It's need to have when it comes for example to limiting temperature increases. Because if that's one degree, imagine what two degrees is, right, in terms of human health; in terms of all of the investments that are made in coastal areas or all of the investments made in farming techniques. I mean, all of us have a collective interest in hastening our transition to clean energy and to net zero. And the private sector is mission-critical there.

I think in terms of USAID, which you were asking about as well, in the food security piece, and I alluded to this a little bit in the speech. But figuring out how, particularly as shocks loom, how we provide early warning, taking advantage of satellite data and so forth. I am co-chair with the Indian government, the United States is. And I am personally on the Coalition for Disaster-Resilient Infrastructure. I mean, insurance schemes that can be put in place in advance, where again, we bring the private sector not only into mitigating carbon emissions, but also to helping countries and communities adapt to the effects that we are already experiencing and that we know are only going to get worse in the short-, and medium-, and long-term.

So, I think these public-private partnerships, that's really the direction USAID has moved in in recent years, is to be more catalytic and coming in in a manner that increases, let's say, investor confidence. I, as the head of USAID, I'm also the vice chair of the Development Finance Corporation and some of the biggest investments that we are making in clean energy and that I think we can make as well in food security resilience will likely come through investment of that kind of capital, which is very different than grant financing and of a very different scale than grant financing from USAID.

But the bottom line is, I think our outreach, USAID's anywhere in the world, through extension services and through agricultural initiatives, whether with the private sector or not, need to build in resilience as a design feature.

And that means now accelerating the effort to eliminate food waste. If there's going to be less food potentially produced when a drought hits or when land is flooded, then that means it's at an even greater premium to ensure that we have cold storage in order to help farmers and other producers store their crops in a manner that dramatically reduces and ultimately eliminates that kind of waste. It's amazing how much food is lost and how many people are hungry and could benefit from that food. And so, those, again, are investments in the private sector that USAID and others, and I would love to do it side-by-side with India, can make around the world.

And then in terms of soil understanding and the targeting of fertilizer in a way that's much more efficient. Fertilizer prices have gone out the roof, the prices. Russia put in place a fertilizer export ban. President Putin likes to blame the high fertilizer prices on sanctions. Fertilizer is exempt from U.S. sanctions. And the ban, indeed on fertilizer that he imposed dates back to November of 2021. So, there are other factors. But that ban from the world's number one fertilizer exporter is making a painful difference in the lives of farmers all around the world. And so, in circumstances like that, again, we need to accelerate the access to know-how as to how to use fertilizer in a manner where you can use less and still secure higher crop yields. And all that know-how is out there. But again, working side-by-side with India, drawing on the iterative learning that has happened here, where it matters so much for Indian farmers, taking that knowledge and making sure that we can scale it in developing countries in a hurry I think is mission-critical.

Thank you all so much. I really appreciate being here. Thank you.

New Delhi, India

Last updated: August 02, 2022

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