A large globe that displays a simulation of the changing climate sits inside the U.S. Center at the COP22 Climate Change Conference. [ZME Science photo]

Embracing the Convergence of Trade, Innovation, and Sustainable Development to Achieve Climate Goals

I just returned from the United Nations 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP) in Marrakech, Morocco, where world leaders came together to begin implementing the commitments made in Paris last year to address climate change.

In less than one year — more quickly than anyone thought possible — more than 100 countries ratified the Paris Agreement, which entered into force on November 4th. Being in Marrakech as the international community convened to discuss the next steps in our fight against global climate was encouraging.

At COP22 in Marrakech, Morocco. [State Department photo]

But there was another reason that returning to Morocco was also something of a homecoming for me. Over 10 years ago, I led negotiations of the U.S.-Morocco Free Trade Agreement, which removed barriers on nearly all commerce between our countries.

In the intervening decade, as technology has revolutionized countless industries, the free trade agreement helped transform and expand Morocco’s economy and created the framework for bilateral cooperation on environmental challenges. It has been a tremendous benefit to both Morocco and the United States — bilateral trade between the United States and Morocco has increased by more than 300 percent. The United States is now Morocco’s third largest trading partner, and U.S. exports to Morocco increased from $481 million in 2005 to $1.63 billion in 2015. U.S. foreign direct investment in Morocco has also grown by a dramatic 230 percent in the last ten years.

In addition to the clear trade and economic benefits, this trade agreement has fostered a wide array of creative, innovative businesses and a thriving community of entrepreneurs throughout Morocco. I had the opportunity to meet with some of these entrepreneurs in Marrakech last week.

I met with David Bult, the American founder of Green Sahara Furniture, who launched the Tansghart Woodworking Center in partnership with the Eve Branson Foundation. The Woodworking Center produces sustainably harvested, hand-crafted wood products for domestic and international markets. It also provides training and employment opportunities to young Berber men who would otherwise have to leave their villages to find work.

I also met with Heather O’Neill, another American who launched a fair trade apparel business in Morocco. Heather formed a partnership with the Tamgounssi Weaving Center, to provide color and design training to local women weavers.

Visiting the Tamgounssi Weaving Center. [State Department photo]

Both David and Heather told me that the existence of the free trade agreement between our nations was one of the main reasons they chose to start their businesses in Morocco.

Outside of Marrakech, I visited an NGO called the High Atlas Foundation, which has received U.S. grant funding through the framework of the U.S.-Morocco Free Trade Agreement. The High Atlas Foundation employs local workers to run an organic walnut and almond processing cooperative, as well as a reforestation program. The foundation has already planted one million trees outside of Marrakech to help offset the negative effects of soil erosion. It also publicly auctioned carbon offsets from 500,000 organic tree saplings during COP22. The efforts of the High Atlas Foundation demonstrate how businesses are employing social entrepreneurship to mitigate climate change and create sustainable local jobs.

Planting a tree in Tadmamte, Morocco. [State Department photo]

These are just a few of countless stories unfolding demonstrating the power of creative and sustainable entrepreneurship in Morocco. Another powerful example is that of Laila el Jaouhari, a young woman who launched a startup dedicated to the collection and recovery of organic waste from agriculture, livestock, and food processing. Her company, Biomethaneo, has developed an innovative process that produces renewable energy from this waste. Similarly, Nawal Ellaoui, who launched SeaSkin, a company that produces and markets luxury leather products made by turning skin from discarded fish into a waterproof leather.

Left: Meeting with Moroccan entrepreneurs. Right: Meeting with Moroccan students. [State Department photos]

While in Morocco, I also had the pleasure of meeting with an inspiring group of Moroccan students who recently returned from educational exchange programs in the United States. As the next generation of leaders, their optimism and passion about doing well by doing good gives me a tremendous amount of hope for the future.

Across Morocco and around the world, innovators and entrepreneurs are driving the global effort to avert climate change in sustainable and profitable ways. Its clear that free trade has been key to making this happen.

The twin challenges of economic growth and protecting our planet are increasingly converging. And it’s crucial that, going forward, global leaders continue to support inspirational people like the ones I met in Morocco and many others like them and around the world.


Editor’s Note: This entry also appears on DipNote, the U.S. Department of State’s Official Blog.

U.N. climate chief Patricia Espinosa, 2nd left, and Morocco’s Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar, centre, celebrate after the proclamation of Marrakech, at the COP22 climate change conference, in Marrakech, Morocco, on November 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Mosa’ab Elshamy)