Henry V. Jardine, the United States Ambassador to Mauritius delves into the intricate tapestry of diplomatic relations between the United States and Mauritius. Ambassador Jardine shares his insights on a broad spectrum of topics, from the historical foundations of U.S.-Mauritius relations to the strategic importance of the region, climate change cooperation, and the future of economic collaboration.
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Could you provide some insights into your background and the journey that culminated in your appointment as the U.S. Ambassador in Mauritius?
I’m thrilled to be here. The path to becoming an ambassador is not a quick one; it’s a journey that takes time. Prior to my current role, I held a range of positions within the State Department. My journey started at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, where I pursued my education and cultivated a deep passion for foreign service and international diplomacy. My primary goal became contributing to this field and, ultimately, the possibility of joining the State Department.
My journey took a substantial twist when I was awarded a scholarship from the US Army, which required a predetermined period of military service. This decision led me to serve as a Lieutenant infantry officer, with assignments that included the 18th-century division in Germany and later the 101st Infantry Division in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Eventually, I made the choice to transition from my regular army commission, embarking on a new trajectory at the State Department, marking the commencement of my path towards becoming an ambassador.
My initial assignment took me to Bangladesh, where I served as a Political and Consular Officer. This experience proved to be valuable, offering me numerous opportunities for learning and growth. Subsequently, I relocated to the Department of Barbados, once again finding myself on a tropical island facing similar challenges, such as climate change and the rise of commercial and corporate interests.
Following my time in Barbados, I had assignments in Thailand and the privilege of serving as the Consul General in Calcutta, India. Upon returning to Washington, I took on a role focused on regional security policy for the East Asia-Pacific region. After this, I assumed the position of Deputy Chief of Mission in Albania, a role that essentially held the second-in-command position within the embassy hierarchy.
Following my tenure in Albania, I was posted to Bangkok, where I spent a cumulative seven-year period. Consequently, a significant portion of my career has been dedicated to serving in Asia, encompassing both South Asia and East Asia. Throughout these assignments, there was a strong emphasis on the broader Indo-Pacific region.
Upon my return to Washington, I took on the role of Principal Deputy Director. Subsequently, I assumed the position of Acting Director for the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations. During this assignment, I played a pivotal role in the design and development of the new U.S. Embassy in Mauritius, a project that began construction earlier this year. This immersive experience provided me with firsthand insights into the process of conceptualizing and bringing to life this extensive diplomatic platform.
Our relationship with Mauritius has a deep-rooted history that goes as far back as 1794, signifying a long-standing connection…
Following that, my name was officially put forward as the nominee for the ambassadorship to Mauritius by the White House in July of the previous year. As is evident, this process demands patience and time. The path to becoming an ambassador involves a crucial step of Senate confirmation. The President, acting through the White House, presented my nomination to the Senate, which then conducted a thorough review and assessment of my qualifications. Eventually, I received confirmation in December, though it took some time to complete all the necessary formalities. I arrived in Mauritius in February and officially presented my credentials in both Mauritius and the Seychelles in March. My extensive background and experience, which encompass a wide range of issues spanning the expansive Indo-Pacific region, combined with my leadership experience within embassies, have thoroughly prepared me for this important role.
Regarding the length of my term, it is closely tied to the current administration and the upcoming election in the following year. Whether it’s a continuation of the Biden Administration or a new one entirely, I cannot predict. As an experienced diplomat, I anticipate that my tenure may last approximately three years. However, the actual duration is ultimately determined by the preferences of the President in office in 2025.
Could you offer a summary of the present diplomatic relations between the United States and Mauritius, with a focus on key areas of collaboration and cooperation?
Our relationship with Mauritius has a deep-rooted history that goes as far back as 1794, signifying a long-standing connection. The enduring presence of the United States in Mauritius can be chiefly attributed to robust economic and commercial partnerships, which I believe will be of great interest to your readers. During that era, American ships, including those in the Merchant Marine and whaling industry, played a significant role in fostering extensive trade between the United States and nations within the Indian Ocean region. Mauritius occupied a pivotal position as a crucial hub for maritime commerce. Consequently, we established a series of presidential agreements, beginning in 1794 and continuing thereafter.
The relationship between the United States and Mauritius is multi-dimensional, covering a wide range of thematic areas. While it is extensive, it can be broadly categorized into three overarching domains.
First and foremost, our relationship is deeply anchored in security cooperation, with active involvement from our Department of Defense. This encompasses a variety of initiatives, including training exercises aimed at strengthening security efforts. For instance, earlier this year, we conducted the Cutlass Express exercise with Mauritius and neighboring countries, with a focus on enhancing maritime domain awareness. This involves monitoring and responding to vessels in the region.
Secondly, our relationship also extends to personal cooperation and engagement with civil society. We collaborate extensively with a diverse range of civil society groups, actively promoting various initiatives related to environmental conservation, climate change, and education. Our engagement spans across the community.
Lastly, a pivotal aspect of our relationship revolves around commercial and economic connections. We are dedicated to further expanding and nurturing this dimension, given its critical role in our partnership. The economic relationship holds immense significance as it directly influences job creation, financial growth, and overall development. It encircles a multitude of elements, making it a central focal point in our bilateral relationship.
What opportunities exist for increased economic collaboration between the United States and Mauritius?
Once again, we acknowledge the abundant potential opportunities that arise from Mauritius and its pivotal role and strategic positioning. Mauritius has forged a range of agreements with African nations and actively contributed to the initiation and development of the Continental Free Trade Agreement in Africa. Additionally, it maintains strong and close ties with India and countries in the Middle East. This strategic positioning enables Mauritius to engage effectively in several vital regional markets.
Taking Africa as an example, with its population of 1.3 billion people and a GDP measured in trillions, Mauritius serves as an incredibly positive and effective platform for conducting business. From the perspective of the United States, Mauritius offers substantial value.
When addressing areas with the potential for commercial opportunities, one specific area of focus is the green energy sector. We are actively investigating ways to strengthen our involvement in this field. Two recent developments emphasize our dedication to this cause.
Firstly, we endorsed a program aimed at empowering women entrepreneurs in the green energy sector. This collaborative effort involved partnering with the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, which has offices in South Africa. The initiative was meticulously crafted to promote entrepreneurship and businesses in Mauritius, with a particular emphasis on empowering women entrepreneurs. Recognizing the vital role women play in society, especially in the workforce and business landscape, we aimed to enhance their participation and influence.
Secondly, in May, a significant trade show called ‘Enlit Africa’ was held, with a primary focus on power and renewable energy. This event has been a recurring event since 2000. We joined forces with a delegation of representatives from the Economic Development Board (EDB), who actively participated in this program in South Africa. This initiative provided a valuable opportunity to establish connections and relationships between U.S. businesses and their African counterparts.
The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) has played a pivotal role in fostering trade between the U.S. and African nations. How have Mauritius and other countries leveraged AGOA for their benefit, and are there any intentions to broaden and diversify trade within this framework?
When contemplating the agreement, its significance cannot be overstated. Initially, it played a central role in aiding Mauritius in diversifying its economy, steering away from its conventional emphasis on tourism and agriculture toward exploring opportunities in manufacturing. Under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), there are 6,500 distinct tariff lines accessible for use by businesses, whether situated in Mauritius or elsewhere in Africa. Companies in Mauritius have been actively capitalizing on these opportunities, especially since the last update in 2015.
As a result, the United States has ascended to become the fourth-largest destination for Mauritius’ exports, comprising roughly 10% of the nation’s total export volume. This represents a significant segment of Mauritius’ global trade. The surge in exports to the United States is clearly discernible, with exports under AGOA amounting to approximately $63 million in 2021 and increasing to $68 million in 2022.
This agreement has played a pivotal role in diversifying Mauritius’ economy, serving as a substantial component of the country’s overall business and international trade. It stands as a critical accord, and active efforts are currently in motion to secure its renewal in 2025. Ongoing dialogues with the Mauritian government, the business community, including representatives such as Mexa, and the Mauritian Embassy in Washington, underscore the significance of extending AGOA. The U.S. government also acknowledges the value of AGOA and the necessity for its renewal, although the legislative process in the United States can be time-consuming, and an election year is approaching. Our aspiration is to witness progress and the timely renewal of this agreement.
Mauritius’ strategic location in the Indian Ocean is well-known. How does the United States perceive the significance of this region and its relationship with Mauritius in terms of regional stability and security?
When considering the Indian Ocean region, it carries substantial significance for numerous reasons. To the best of my knowledge, approximately one-third of the world’s population resides in the Indian Ocean region, representing about 20% of the global fisheries industry. This region is characterized by a high level of economic activity. As I previously mentioned, Mauritius plays a pivotal role as a platform that facilitates trade and provides access to other markets for businesses.
As an example, in the financial services sector alone, approximately $70 billion in transactions originate from U.S. businesses but pass through Mauritius. This highlights the acknowledgment of Mauritius’ strategic significance in facilitating business operations across the region.
Hence, when we evaluate Mauritius’ strategic importance, it encompasses not just security cooperation but also the broader domain of commercial and corporate relationships.
Do you envision the possibility of more U.S. companies establishing offices in Mauritius in the future?
I see significant potential for businesses to establish their operations here. I’m aware of companies like Ceridian, an American firm specializing in providing administrative, HR, and financial support services to businesses. They have set up offices in Mauritius while simultaneously supporting operations across Africa. Several businesses have already identified these opportunities, and I believe there is a need to further emphasize and promote them.
For instance, the Minister for Financial Services visited the United States in September to emphasize this role. During his visit, he interacted with our Chamber of Commerce and other business representatives. There is undoubtedly a compelling argument to be made for Mauritius as a strategic hub for businesses, and a few companies have already capitalized on this role. Nevertheless, there is room for additional promotion and advertising in this regard.
We acknowledge the abundant potential opportunities that arise from Mauritius and its pivotal role and strategic positioning…
Given the global concerns surrounding climate change and environmental preservation, could you elaborate on how the United States is collaborating with Mauritius to tackle these challenges and advance the cause of sustainable development?
This matter was also a topic of discussion during the African Leaders Summit held in Washington last December. During that event, the President placed significant emphasis on the importance of assisting African nations in their endeavors to combat climate change and formulate strategies to tackle this challenge. As an example, we have been proactive in advocating for Mauritius’s inclusion in the G20, providing a platform for the country to bring attention to these urgent issues. Our goal is to create opportunities for countries like Mauritius to showcase the distinct challenges they encounter.
Furthermore, we have executed programs aimed at systematically addressing climate change. As mentioned earlier, within the Enlit program, we assisted the Economic Development Board (EDB) in facilitating a delegation’s exploration of renewable technologies and forging connections with U.S. businesses in that sector. In addition, just last month, we backed a renewable energy program in collaboration with the U.S. Trade and Development Agency here in Mauritius. This initiative had a specific emphasis on encouraging women’s participation in the green energy sector.
We are actively pursuing opportunities for engagement and the enhancement of business relations, especially in sectors that play a role in addressing climate change. This is an ongoing endeavor as we continue to explore and develop various sectors. We acknowledge the vital importance of this matter for Mauritius and remain dedicated to supporting these endeavors through international initiatives as well as through specific activities and programs.
What can be done to attract more U.S. tourists to Mauritius?
The foremost challenge for Mauritius in relation to the U.S. market undeniably lies in the geographical distance, resulting in significant travel time. Another aspect to take into account is the vacation culture in the United States, where, unlike some of our counterparts, individuals typically have limited vacation time. On average, an American is granted only two weeks of vacation per year. Nevertheless, I want to emphasize that this should not dissuade Mauritius from promoting itself to American tourists.
What Mauritius has accomplished and should persist in doing is positioning itself as an appealing destination for the American tourist, especially those in the higher-end market segment. This particular demographic possesses the means to visit Mauritius and can allocate the required time for an extended stay, which has economic advantages for Mauritius. To effectively tap into this market, Mauritius should adopt a customized and targeted approach to marketing, highlighting the distinctive and alluring aspects of the country.
Mauritius showcases breathtakingly beautiful beaches and possesses a unique charm that distinguishes it from other destinations. Emphasizing this distinctiveness and showcasing the value of what Mauritius has to offer is essential when appealing to the higher-end market. Furthermore, customizing experiences to cater to different segments within this market is pivotal. For example, sports fishing is a favored activity among affluent individuals who are passionate about this pursuit. They are willing to spend a week on a boat, making a substantial investment for a memorable experience.
Likewise, there are individuals in search of an escape to a different and exquisite setting. Providing customized experiences that align with their preferences is crucial. While there are challenges associated with the distance, costs, and time commitment required to reach Mauritius, these hurdles are not insurmountable. Succeeding in attracting American tourists requires targeted niche marketing strategies and effectively showcasing Mauritius’s comparative advantages in comparison to other destinations.
Looking forward, could you elaborate on your vision for the future of economic relations between the U.S. and Mauritius, as well as the significant milestones you aim to accomplish during your tenure as ambassador?
As I mentioned earlier in this interview, when we examine the relationship between the U.S. and Mauritius, we identify three primary areas of focus, with trade and economics being particularly significant and deserving of attention. Historically, a challenge has been the perception among U.S. businesses that Mauritius is distant and represents a smaller market with a population of around 1.3 million. However, it’s crucial to recognize that Mauritius is an integral part of a larger global community. It maintains deep connections with the African continent, India, and even the Middle East. When we consider Mauritius, we should view it within the context of these broader global relationships, which offer the potential to engage with billions of people by utilizing Mauritius as a strategic platform.
Mauritius provides stability, strong political institutions, robust infrastructure, and a commitment to the rule of law. It serves as an exceptional platform for businesses to flourish. We’ve already seen businesses seize these opportunities, with substantial financial transactions passing through the country. Our dedication to Mauritius is exemplified by our new Embassy, which represents a $300 million investment. This platform will empower us to effectively represent the United States while fostering broader engagement with the Mauritian community.
Our new Embassy will feature extensive, open spaces, establishing an aesthetically pleasing and conducive environment for dialogue, collaboration, and engagement. It will facilitate discussions on a range of sectors, including education, and how we can bolster the growth of industries in which Mauritius is already excelling, such as pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, science, and technology. Under AGOA, Mauritius has harnessed these opportunities, successfully selling and marketing its products in the U.S. market.
In the realm of education, Mauritius holds significant potential, boasting a highly educated and skilled workforce. We currently have several established programs in place, such as the Mandela Washington Exchange program, which brings individuals to the United States to learn best practices across various domains, including civil society and business. These exchange initiatives are avenues we aim to further enhance.
I am genuinely enthusiastic to be here at a time when we are emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, and there is a palpable eagerness to return to business, engage in face-to-face meetings, and resume travel. This is an opportune moment as we embark on the construction of our new Embassy, which will serve as a platform for the next century. There is a growing interest in exploring how Mauritius can become an effective partner and platform for us, particularly in the field of business and commercial relations.