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Henry V. Jardine,
U.S. Ambassador to Mauritius

“It would be helpful to have a major U.S. bank in Mauritius”

“The business community and business relationship is one of the areas where we fundamentally need to do more. We have a lot of cooperation in different areas, because like I said, it’s now a challenge we have in getting businesses in the United States to understand what Mauritius represents as a business destination,” U.S. Ambassador Jardine stated to BIZweek in an interview. He also answered our questions on the commercial relations between the U.S. and Mauritius, AGOA, ENLIT Africa, the Chagos negotiations and his own ambitions in his role as ambassador. 

Text – Rudy Veeramundar | Photo – Manoj Nawoor


You have been in Mauritius for three months and you had the opportunity to engage with the Government, members of the Opposition, representatives of the private business sector and of the civil society. Can we have your assessment of your first three months as Ambassador? 

It’s been a very welcoming three months I would say. Many of the people in Mauritius and Seychelles, where I have also travelled, have been very interested to have an engagement with me and the embassy. From my perspective, it has been a very positive experience coming here, and as you noted, I am trying to meet with a broad cross-section of people. I think that one of the approaches that I would be interested in engaging in or pushing forward as I go forward in this position is making sure that we have an engagement that’s broad. The government to government relation is important, but also with the civil society, the media and the business community, who are your readers, and very much of interest to me.

You met the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) of Mauritius this week and we understand, through the U.S. Embassy’s post on social media, that discussions revolved around upholding the rule of law, human rights and combating transnational crimes within the region. Can you tell us more on this focus on upholding the rule of law and human rights? 

I think that’s the principle that really underlines much of our foreign policies. For the United States, Human Rights Law  is  a basic principle for any democratic society. We share those values with Mauritius and I think that’s important because at the end of the day, when you have a relationship, there will always be ups and downs, differences in perspectives… In any relationship you have, whether it’s a marital relationship, a friendship or a business relationship, or in this case, international foreign policy relationship, you have those different views and that is normal. But the one thing you want to do is to have a foundational understanding, and I think that is what adds value to our relationship with Mauritius. It’s not a transactional relationship, it’s one where we recognize that there are principles we share. Those shared principles allow us to communicate, engage at a much deeper level, and provide that foundation. So, when there is a challenge, when there is an issue, when there is a difference of opinion, we can work through that by recognizing that those differences aren’t fundamental. It’s the shared interests that are.


How was the meeting with the DPP?

I think it went well. We talked a lot about his role, his constitutional role, the independence of his position, how we could support… In fact, it was a great opportunity where I met two members of his team. One had just finished a Fulbright scholarship, and another was going to do a Fulbright scholarship. We talked about the support that we provide to the DPP’s office, to individuals working in the office. Institutionally, we are providing a lot of scope for the DPP’s office as we provide International Enforcement Academy training. There is a law enforcement academy in Botswana, and what we tried to do is provide training for individuals. Here, it can be with the DPP’s office.  We can provide a number of opportunities for his team and he was excited about the chance to take advantage of this going forward.

Similarly, we work very closely with UNODC, where we provide a significant amount of funding to the UN Office in combating drugs and crime, and one of the areas that they are supporting the DPP in is a case-management software system. He was very appreciative of the fact that as you are managing a case and trying to work out the judicial process, you need a mechanism. The software will help them.

So, there are a lot of different things we do to support the DPP and we talked about that. I wanted to get a sense from him of other areas where we could support.  It was a very positive, constructive conversation to know how we could be more supportive.


To close the legal chapter of this interview, what is your assessment of the human rights situation in Mauritius? Are we going in the right direction? Is there still room for improvement? 

I think that you can say that about any country. There is an ongoing debate about the nature of human rights in the US, and questions about law enforcement on how the police operate. There have been issues which have been quite public and global – Black Lives Matter, the George Floyd case. There have been many instances in which we have seen the abuse of police in the United States. When we talk about human rights – and there was a dialogue about human rights – you don’t presume that the U.S. comes from the perspective where we are doing this better per say. Our Deputy Secretary Verma said that we can come very humbly and we can locate how we can be supportive, how we can highlight the issues, and again, it’s part of this dialogue that any democracy will have with other democracies on these principles of human rights.

If you look at some of the reporting we have done, we highlighted where we had questions about some issues or actions, whether they are in line with due process or if there are any areas where maybe more training can be provided to law enforcement. We have looked at how we can be supportive, recognizing that there are always going to be these gaps and challenges and ensuring that human rights are respected uniformly.


Let’s now talk about your targets for the next three years. How challenging is this posting for you?

I think that, in any job that you want to do, you know it’s always going to be a challenge. You are always going to set a very high bar for yourself, and I want to feel, when I leave here, that I have left something positive behind, some kind of legacy. In any position that you take on in this career, you realise that you are there for a period of time, and in that period of time, you hope that you add value to wherever you are working.

The challenge, for me, is how I can add value. I am excited and happy with the fact that I am fortunate to be here at a time where I can leverage some opportunities, for instance opening a new embassy. That’s a huge project and we are talking about three hundred million dollars. If you look at how much will be directly invested in Mauritius, through construction supplies, hiring of workforce, purchasing of equipment and vehicles, that would be about 80 million dollars; about 3.6 billion rupees, that would directly be invested here.

The ground-breaking and the opportunity to kick-off the project is something that I will leave as a legacy. I was very fortunate to have been involved initially, in a previous assignment, as the Acting Director for overseas building operations, to have initiated that project, going through the acquisition process, the design process, and then I moved into another position, went in the contracting process, and then I came here to kick it off.

I was also very excited to have the chance to be here for the opening of the new embassy in Seychelles. I think this is very important. Both of these may be perceived as a sort of a physical representation of the legacy, but I think that they are going to provide the plan to move forward over a number of areas to expand our cooperation.

Can we have a few examples of those areas of cooperation?

You’ve seen what we’ve been doing in the area of security cooperation, maritime cooperation… It was our first bilateral exercise under the new agreement that we signed with Seychelles, just about a year and a half ago.  The area of interest to your readers is the commercial part, where we really need to do more. The challenge is the distance and trying to educate U.S. businesses about the opportunities here, understanding that initially, the  perception is that they look at Mauritius and say, well, it’s a small market with 1.3 million people. What they need to understand – and some are starting to realize it –, is that Mauritius really is linked in quite closely, in commercial terms, with the African continent through the various agreements of SADC, COMESA, and the free trade area.

There are various trade and tax agreements that allow Mauritius-based businesses to go into that market, similarly with India. You have probably two of the largest markets in the world, which are actually growing.  These communities or countries have younger populations and are one of the few areas where we see growth in the population. Elsewhere, you see ageing populations or declining populations. Having an understanding of Mauritius as a platform for business will be important.

Mauritius has been doing well since it has a very highly-educated workforce. I know that there is this question in the business community about the skills gap and that a lot of young people are going overseas, but I think that if you can provide them opportunities here, then they would like to stay. So, my hope is that by building the commercial trade relationship with U.S. businesses, they will have an opportunity to have a presence here that will help Mauritius in the long run. This will be mutually beneficial.

Trade is an area which will be very interesting. Our economic officer recently led a delegation to ENLIT, and I think that was very successful. There were a number of American businesses, agencies like the US trade development agencies, and foreign commercial services, and they had a chance to hear directly from the CEO of the EDB and get an understanding of what the opportunities are. This created a lot of positive dialogue.

We are hoping that this will continue and that we’ll see a possibility of more commercial service delegations coming out later this year. I think that created a perception within our business community that there is a good opportunity of dialogue and fleshing out where there could be cooperation. I think we’ll have some more good news as the year progresses.

You said that you expect more progress. Should we understand that there are some areas in which the US needs to catch up on the business front in the region?

I think we are always trying to catch up in the business community. There’s always going to be instances where we could do more, and part of the challenge is educating U.S. businesses and giving them opportunities here.

There’s a lot of potential in renewables, not just for Mauritius, but for the region. I had the chance to talk to a number of businesses, to get a sense of where they see opportunities, and they see a lot of opportunity in medical equipment, medical supplies and pharmaceuticals.

There is also opportunity in the context of education. I’ve talked to different educational representatives from the U.S. who came out here and suggested that this, potentially, could be a good platform to provide educational services, because Mauritius is stable, has good infrastructure, good connectivity and has close proximity to the young population in India, who are looking for education, looking for opportunities that they may not be able to find at home, but who don’t necessarily want to go all the way to Europe or the United States. There’s a potential opportunity, here, to do that.

Those are areas where we are interested in seeing how we can build that out. I think we’re in the early stages of looking at those opportunities.

Mauritius has historically been seen as a strategic geographical location and there have been growing geopolitical challenges in the region. How is the US monitoring these challenges and how is it positioning itself? 

The area is important. The Indian Ocean region has a third of the global population, about a fifth of global GDP, and a third of maritime trade goes through here. Mauritius is at that crossroads, historically. It’s not something new. The reason we had a consular officer here in 1794 was very much because of that strategic value. The reasoning is that he was here because of trade and commerce. There were American whaling ships coming through and someone needed to take care of the sailors if they got into trouble, so that was a lot of work that the consul did at the time. But for Mauritius’ strategic location and its commercial importance at the time, we wouldn’t have had a consul officer here so soon after the creation of the United States.

That pattern, that reality, is still very much true today, and so the U.S. really needs to be here. I think that Woody Allen said something like “80% of success is just showing up”. We feel that having a presence here allows us to be successful.

We recognize that Mauritius has a dialogue relationship with many countries.  We are not asking Mauritius to pick or choose per se, but we do want to make sure that Mauritius feels like it has a strong partner in the United States, that the United States is here, values that relationship, and is a country which has very close, supportive relationships with its friends and allies, that there is the shared interest in democratic rights and principles, preserving those principles for the community, for the people, and ensuring that we are part of that relationship, of that dialogue, as Mauritius looks across the global horizon and identifies those countries with which it can have strong, meaningful relationships.


ENLIT conference is considered a very important annual event for the business community. How was the 2023 edition for the U.S. pavilion in Cape Town?

We have to remember that we are coming out of COVID, which was obviously very disruptive, and had a tendency to stop engagements or activities. Post COVID, we have essentially been doing a reset, getting back into that kind of outreach engagement dialogue, and getting people connected. I think it was very successful given this lag where we haven’t had these kinds of activities to be able to really build on.

Catherine Volman (Economic Officer of the U.S. Embassy) was able to go with the EDB team and a couple of business representatives, but what was also really valuable is that on the other side, there were a number of American businesses and leading companies in the area of renewable energy. There was also good representation from various US agencies, international financial corporations, and our foreign commercial services.

Having those agencies dialogue with the EDB was really important, and the CEO of the EDB was able to give a keynote speech and hosted an event dinner with 25 business representatives.

Ultimately, that dialogue was very positive. In fact, the U.S. pavilion got the award for the best pavilion and that reflected how positive that platform was and the fact that there was such an extensive engagement from that pavilion.

Our hope is that we’ll continue the dialogue in the expectation that we will see some businesses agencies coming up as well. This is a good opportunity to really start building those relations. Our hope is that Mauritius gets the opportunity , in other future activities, to get something out of these kinds of conversations, and really sell itself more and explain how there are opportunities and ways to  leverage Mauritius’ unique position, despite the distances.


One of the main challenges of implementing renewable energy projects lies in the funding. How can U.S.-Mauritius relations be helpful in the transition to renewable energy?

When you seek the funding or financing, the various agencies that are out there, on the U.S. government side, are often able to provide that financing. The International Development Financing Corporation is one of those corporations that are able to do that financing. In fact, I understand it is part of a broader Indo-Pacific effort. They’re doing a significant financing of a solar project in India. I think that there are potential opportunities for financing, but one area that can be challenging is the regulatory environment.

We would encourage the government to be very straightforward leaning and understand what are the constraints and challenges that the private sector has in looking at some of these newer industries and seeing how the framework of setting up a business can be advantageous for those businesses. I know that there’s some consideration in this budget that’s being debated. Thinking about the regulatory framework is very important for Mauritius to be able to ensure that the businesses – which may  have the financing and the expertise – can see return on the investment.


Mauritius has the ambition to move from coal to renewable energy in the coming years. From your perspective, is this target achievable? 

I think that it is possible. What has to happen, though, is some flexibility for the private sector. I’ve talked to some businesses here, in the private sector, about their desire to develop solar power, whether they’re actual power-generating companies or not. I understand that there are companies in the manufacturing industries, or hospitality, who are very interested in trying to develop alternative energy.

The dispersed approach to solar or other renewables is something that sometimes, countries aren’t as familiar with as what they think. There is this perception that renewable energy is about building a big solar farm somewhere and that the power generation will be  done through a central service central and government approach.

My personal thought is that we should look at all the options and potentially allow for individuals, companies and others to do some power generation, and then either use it for their own consumption or provide some back into the grid. I think that this sort of dispersed approach to renewables is one that one would get Mauritius to its goals faster.

On a broader level, what can we expect from the U.S.-Mauritius commercial relationship?

My goal here is to try to continually develop these exchanges. We can expect more exchanges coming in this year. One of the areas that I’m interested in is, for instance, the theme of the trade and investment framework agreement and to see whether there is an opportunity to sort of renew what has been out there for a while.

I know that there have been many discussions about AGOA and many of the private sector and government officials have raised this with me. I’ve encouraged them to also engage with counterparts on the legislative side. To the extent that we can help in explaining the strong interest Mauritius has for the continuation of AGOA and with regards to the dialogue between Mauritius and our counterparts or government officials in Washington, we want to try to be supportive in that regard as well.


In his speech at the ground-breaking ceremony of the U.S. Embassy, the Prime Minister of Mauritius stated that Mauritius is hoping for the renewal of the AGOA and expects that the eligibility will not be limited by the income threshold… 

I think that message was conveyed very clearly to the Deputy Secretary, who said he would certainly go back to Washington with that insight and see how that could be discussed. We can’t make commitments or promises at this point, but I can say that the Prime Minister’s messaging on that was effective. I mean that he did convey the message very strongly, both in his conversation with the Deputy Secretary, as well as in his speech on the occasion.

I can say that we had the same thing in Seychelles too. It’s exactly the same sort of dynamic in Seychelles, and so, this is a message that has been out there and I think it’s resonating. So, we’ll see what can be done in the United States. There is, as you know, a big policy process whenever you look at these issues. There are a lot of different players who have to weigh in, especially with the congressional side of the House, and then we have various other trade agencies in office, the U.S. trade representatives… They all have a piece in this, but I can say that the message was conveyed very strongly during the Deputy Secretary’s visit, and it was conveyed here as well as in Seychelles.


What is the key message behind the official visit of a Deputy Secretary of State of the U.S. to Mauritius and the region?

The key message is that we value the relationship with Mauritius and the region. The fact that the Deputy Secretary felt, that early in his assignment, that he needed to come out here, is an indication of the focus that the U.S. government has on this region for the many reasons that we have already talked about. The key message is clear: we recognize the importance of the relationship with Mauritius and we want to be engaged, we want to be here.


It has been reported in the press that Diego Garcia was indeed discussed in the meeting between the Deputy Secretary of State and the Prime Minister of Mauritius, but not the Chagos issue. Can you confirm?

I think there was a misreading. It was a question during the press conference exercise and someone asked him about the Chagos. He said that we “did” speak of Chagos, that the Prime Minister “did” speak of Chagos, and then I think some people thought he said “didn’t”. There was one article which said that he didn’t speak about Chagos, but about Diego Garcia. The Prime Minister did raise Chagos and the Deputy Secretary did reaffirm what he said publicly. We encourage the dialogue between Mauritius and the UK, we think that they are coming to the discussions on the Chagos in good faith, and that they want to  have a resolution to this, and urge time and patience with that process, knowing how complicated it is.

Then there was that discussion, and on Diego Garcia in particular. The Prime Minister again reiterated what he said publicly. They support the continued presence of Diego Garcia and recognize the importance of Diego Garcia for regional security. There was that conversation.


What are your concluding remarks for this interview?


Thank you for the opportunity. I know that your readers are the ones we really want to engage with. The business community and business relationship is one of the areas where we fundamentally need to do more. We have a lot of cooperation in different areas, because like I said, it’s now a challenge we have in getting businesses in the United States to understand what Mauritius represents as a business destination.


One thing I would add is that financial services and banking represent also another big area. There is no major U.S. bank here right now. I think Mauritius is already being used for its financial hub by U.S. business, but the fact is that there’s not a U.S. bank here.


Would you wish for a major U.S. bank to come here?


I think it would be helpful. Having a U.S. financial bank present here would be very good because I think it would show the status of Mauritius, where you have international-level institutions, and you already have a number of international banks like Standard Chartered, HSBC…


We also like bringing American businesses because of their focus on governance. There is a lot of accountability of American business in the United States, the different laws that they have to follow. There are indeed rules and laws here, but it would help in elevating them, because of the U.S. legal requirements.

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