Despite the Chagos issue, which America sees as a bilateral case between Mauritius and the UK, the United States encourages a stronger commercial relationship between our two countries, says the American Ambassador to Mauritius. He believes the island is a reliable place for US companies to start African operations.
Can you give us an overview of the commercial relationship between the United States and Mauritius?
The United States and Mauritius have excellent commercial relations, but we want to see more trade and more investment in both directions. The United States emerged as the top destination for Mauritian exports in 2018 and the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) launched a Mauritius chapter less than a year ago, so we are moving in the right direction.
We would still like to see more U.S. Products in Mauritian stores, U.S. cars on Mauritian roads, and U.S. technologies in Mauritian factories. I would also like to see more U.S. companies setting up regional offices here in Mauritius to help them tap into the African market. To get there, Mauritius needs to increase its visibility in the United States. The island has all the pieces in place to be an international business hub, and we tell U.S. Companies that it is a safe, reliable place to start African operations. Getting that word out back in the United States is the key to success.
The non-renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) is a driving concern in the Mauritian export sector. When will the negotiations start over a free-trade agreement?
We encourage Mauritius to take steps now to plan for the post-AGOA era. Mauritius has done a great job taking advantage of the AGOA and thousands of Mauritian jobs in textile manufacturing exist because of the AGOA trade preference provided by the U.S. government. AGOA is scheduled to expire in 2025 and Mauritius might even "graduate" out of AGOA before then, if its income rises above the AGOA ceiling. The United States expects to decide soon which African country will be our first free-trade agreement partner. In the meantime, we will continue to work with Mauritius to improve its global competitiveness. Next month, for instance, the U.S. Embassy is partnering with the American Chamber of Commerce to host a workshop exploring how Mauritian companies can use new agricultural processing technologies to diversify and produce niche, high-demand products like oil extracts.
In light of the opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and massive support given to Mauritius at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), what are the possibilities of Mauritius engaging directly with the States for a lease on Diego Garcia?
The United States views the issue as a bilateral dispute between Mauritius and the UK, and believes that it was inappropriate to involve the ICJ in such a conflict. That said, the United States unequivocally supports UK sovereignty over the British Indian Ocean Territory. Its status as a UK territory is essential to the value of the joint U.S.- UK base on Diego Garcia and our shared security interests.
Why don't you give priority to Mauritians to work on Diego Garcia?
In fact, Mauritians are permitted to work on Diego Garcia. Many have already, and there is currently a recruitment effort underway to hire more qualified candidates.
If Diego Garcia is around, how do you explain that there is still maritime insecurity (piracy) in the Indian Ocean region?
Piracy in the Indian Ocean, particularly off the coast of Somalia, has greatly diminished in recent years. That is due to a strong, concerted international effort, in which U.S. security forces played a leading role. A free and secure Indian Ocean benefits all countries, including Mauritius.
What are the views of the U.S. On Indian presence in Agalega Island?
That is a matter for the Governments and people of Mauritius and India to decide.
China imputes the full responsibility of the negotiations failure to the US pertaining to the trade conflict...
As the U.S. Trade Representative and Department of Treasury stated in a recent press release, the United States is disappointed that the Chinese have chosen to pursue a blame game misrepresenting the nature and history of trade negotiations between the two countries. President Trump is committed to taking action to address the unfair trade practices China has engaged in for decades, including intellectual property theft and forced technology transfer.
Relying on Chinese media, American companies are the ones worst hit by this trade war. Is it the case?
American companies have been hit by unfair Chinese trade practices and cyber theft for decades. The U.S.-China commercial relationship is very large and our economies are tethered together in a number of ways, so of course it is important that we get these negotiations right. What we are asking for is simple: a fair, reciprocal set of trading rules that apply to both countries.
To what extent can this trade warfare escalate?
The United States is simply trying to level the playing field. We want economic expansion in both the United States and China. But to get there we want trade to be open, fair, free, and transparent.
The Chinese tech giant Huawei reassures its users that they can still put their trust in their phones and technology. Do you agree?
The risks are well documented. Huawei products are known to have security vulnerabilities. Every customer is, of course, free to make his own risk assessments. For our part, to maintain the security of communications and other technology used by the U.S. government, we made the decision to impose restrictions on the procurement of Huawei products.
What are the American views on the Mauritian Safe City project with Huawei?
Huawei's global reach is obviously a concern, particularly for those who value privacy and individual rights. Secretary of State Pompeo said it best: "Liberal democracies share a common value set. The Chinese don't share that value set, and so their infrastructure, their IT systems are fundamentally different." Huawei is effectively an instrument of the Chinese government. They are deeply connected. Members of the Chinese Communist Party sit on Huawei's board of directors. Chinese law requires companies like Huawei to help the Chinese government carry out intelligence work. This is obviously concerning in countries where rule of law is valued.