MS ALBRIGHT: Hello. Thank you all so much for joining us, and I thank with deep appreciation the Government of Kiribati for partnering with the Millennium Challenge Corporation.
Specifically, I want to recognize all of our friends, officials from the Government of Kiribati, who have joined us here today, including His Excellency Taneti Maamau, the president of Kiribati – lovely to see you; Taabeta Teakai, the minister for employment and human resource; Alexander Teabo, the minister for education; Teburoro Tito, although I’m not sure I see Ambassador Tito here – he’s with us in spirit – (laughter) – the ambassador from Kiribati to the United States, we were with him in New York last week; Secretary Rores Irate (sp), the minister of education; and Director Taabeta Teakai, the minister of employment and human resource.
For nearly two decades, MCC has partnered with more than 45 countries, deploying nearly $17 billion in grant capital to reduce poverty through growth. We anchor our work in country ownership and partnership, working with partners – such as Kiribati – who are committed to our shared democratic and economic values.
So today we are so proud to sign this $29.1 million program, which is the largest grant that has been deployed by – in Kiribati by the United States to date. This program aims to bolster the capabilities of the Government of Kiribati to promote safe, accessible, decent, and inclusive employment opportunities for Kiribati workers and to strengthen workers’ rights and resilience. The program will also empower youth with key skills for future employment opportunities.
This program is a crucial part of President Biden’s overall commitment to the Pacific Region and specifically to the Pacific Islands. And MCC has recently advanced this commitment. Last year, MCC and the Government of the Solomon Islands signed a $20 million threshold program, which aims to increase tourism investment and to provide communities with revenues from sustainable forestry as an alternative to logging. Indeed, MCC is hard at work in the Solomons implementing this program with our resident country director, Charles Jakosa, establishing a full-time presence. And now MCC is so excited to deepen its partnerships in this vital part of the world by investing in Kiribati.
Further, we are together addressing the existential challenge that we all face of climate change. Kiribati’s geography faces this threat, jeopardizing jobs and constraining economic growth. So we are working together to tackle this problem head on. To help Kiribati adapt to climate challenges, we have worked hand in hand with our colleagues in Kiribati to develop a country-based approach, investing in international labor mobility – investing in international labor mobility. People are the country’s most important asset, so this program will protect and invest in Kiribati’s workers, providing decent employment opportunities both in Kiribati and throughout the Pacific region. Together we will empower the people of Kiribati with capabilities and opportunities to thrive in the economy of the future. As partners, we are committed to our shared values, and I so look forward to achieving a brighter future for the people of Kiribati.
Finally, I’d like to offer my deep gratitude to the MCC team members led by Grace Morgan – where’s Grace? Grace – and Emily Schultz. Where’s Emily? Emily’s over there – whose hard work has made this program possible starting in the middle of COVID. So there was a lot done over Zoom.
And now it is my great honor and privilege to introduce my dear friend and the 71st Secretary – U.S. Secretary of State, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, to share his remarks. Thank you so much. (Applause.)
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, thank you and good evening, everybody. Mr. President, thank you for being here this evening. Thank you for marking this important occasion with us. Alice, to you, for your extraordinary leadership of the MCC, to your team for the incredibly hard work during COVID, after COVID to bring us to this day. But especially to our friends from Kiribati – we’re so delighted to welcome you here to the State Department.
Mr. President, last week at the United Nations you shared your vision, and I quote, “of a wealthier, healthier, peaceful nation.” That’s a goal that President Biden shares as well for Kiribati and for countries across the Pacific. As a Pacific nation ourselves, the United States is committed to partnering with Pacific Islands to build a secure, resilient, inclusive, and prosperous future.
And that’s very much the spirit behind the agreement that we’ll sign today. We’re investing in the President’s vision for the country, specifically by supporting Kiribati’s greatest asset, its people. This agreement, as you’ve heard, invests $29.1 million to promote safe, accessible, decent, and inclusive employment opportunities for iKiribati workers, both in Kiribati and across the region. And it does this in a number of critical ways, and I really want to emphasize some of the things that Alice said because it’s so important. It gets to the heart not only of what we’re doing together but how we’re doing it.
First, it helps strengthen Kiribati’s Ministry of Employment and Human Resource, which we know plays a vital role in connecting workers with domestic and regional employers. This agreement makes it possible for the agency to better market job opportunities to iKiribati workers and to make more – and to more easily help underrepresented groups, like women and ethnic minorities, actually find jobs.
Second, the agreement helps protect iKiribati as they take jobs abroad. One way it will do this is by supporting the creation of a resource center for overseas workers so that they know their rights in new countries.
And third, the agreement creates English language camps for iKiribati youth in Fiji and the United States and provides students with year-long scholarships to study in American high schools. Students will have the opportunity to improve their oral and written communication and make themselves more competitive for jobs. And these connections will strengthen the ties that bind our people, and with it, our shared future.
Like all MCC projects, we developed this initiative, as you heard from Alice, hand in hand with our in-country partners. That’s the great strength of what the MCC does. It is focused on developing projects jointly, listening, learning, hearing our partners and what they need, and working together to identify priorities and generate practical, positive solutions. This agreement recognizes the fast-changing nature of employment challenges, and it gives us the flexibility that we need to adapt to new circumstances and to ensure that, together, we’re delivering results.
So to everyone who made this possible, who brought us to today, thank you. We’re greatly looking forward to seeing all of the good things, the positive things, the practical things this project brings to Kiribati and to the broader Pacific region. Thank you so much. (Applause.)
Madam Minister, the microphone is yours.
MINISTER TEAKAI: Thank you very much.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you so much.
MINISTER TEAKAI: Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the chief executive officer of the Millennium Challenge Corporation and your team, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, warm greetings – warm Kiribati greetings to you all in the name of God Almighty. (In foreign language.)
I have the honor to represent the government and the people of Kiribati this evening to witness and celebrate the signing of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, MCC, Kiribati threshold grant agreement. First, allow me to reflect on our past engagement with the MCC leading to this partnership.
Kiribati first engaged with the MCC in 2021 during the COVID pandemic through virtual meetings after being selected for the threshold program. This is where the extensive and comprehensive consultations began in which the Government of Kiribati selected the international labor mobility as a priority focus to be considered under the collaboration with the MCC.
Following the border reopening, the MCC delegation made its first in-country visit of – to Kiribati in October 2022, where they had the opportunity to meet in person with all relevant stakeholders and held extensive consultations informing the project design.
In June ’23, the negotiation on the threshold grant agreement was held here in Washington, D.C. The international labor mobility program – named (inaudible), meaning (in foreign language) project, or in English, “Decent Work for Everyone’s Development,” consists of three activities. These include capacity strengthening to support labor mobility activities, workers’ right, and well-being implemented by the Ministry of Employment and Human Resources, and senior secondary scholarships and summer camps implemented by the Ministry of Education.
These are very much central to and resonating with Kiribati’s development aspirations. Capitalizing on our human resources through strengthened international labor mobility is a cornerstone to Kiribati’s long-term development aspirations, enshrined in the Kiribati Vision, the KV20. The signing of this MCC grant agreement marks an important milestone between Kiribati and the United States through the Ministry of Employment and the Ministry of Education with the MCC team. Kiribati is looking forward to the implementation stage and to a long-term partnership.
On behalf of the people of and the Government of Kiribati, I wish to convey our sincere gratitude to the U.S. Government for this new initiative. I would also like to acknowledge with gratitude the support and commitment of the MCC team and the implementing partners, International Labor Organization and the American Councils, who will be working with our ministries. The signing of the MCC grant agreement is just the beginning of this significant partnership, but I have no doubt it will bring tangible, mutual benefits to our two countries.
In closing, I would like to wish you all the best this evening and to bestow upon all of us our Kiribati traditional blessings of te mauri, te raoi, and te tabomoa, meaning “good health, peace, and prosperity.” Thank you all. (Applause.)
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So I think now we’re going to proceed to the signing.
(The agreement was signed.)