America cannot afford to be left behind on global development

America cannot afford to be left behind on global development
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It’s happening all over the developing world, from Asia to Africa to Latin America. Railways, highways, pipelines and bridges are springing up from Kenya to Kazakhstan as part of an infrastructure initiative that is estimated to be seven times the size of the Marshall Plan. Last year alone, new investments in seaports were estimated at over $20 billion, twice as much as the year before. Who is the economic powerhouse leading the way? Not the United States, but China.

It doesn’t take a seasoned traveler to observe this phenomenon when arriving in Addis Ababa or Accra, or most other African countries. The continent is the home to six of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world. Just last week, China announced a new aid agency to coordinate their growing global programs and influence. It’s not just the Chinese who are investing. It’s Japan, France, Germany, Britain and more. This begs the obvious question: Is America getting left behind?

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While the United States is never going to mirror China’s state-driven investment model, nor should it, we have an opportunity to play to our strengths and win big. America has a range of tools that advance our economic and national security interests around the globe, and it’s time to rev them up. A key player in that toolkit, which has been modernized and reformed over the past, decade is our global development and foreign assistance programs.

From President George W. Bush’s drive to establish the Millennium Challenge Corporation to the USAID’s efforts to leverage the private sector on food security and energy, we’ve seen a smart shift towards results-driven programs that are not only fighting global poverty and advancing our national security, but are also creating more access, customers and level playing field for U.S. businesses.

But America has another economic tool, development finance, which has been underutilized and is an absolute winner for us and for the developing world. In developing countries, particularly in conflict and fragile states, there are often opportunities that can’t get commercial lending because they are seen as too “risky.”

To help unleash private sector growth and opportunity, a small U.S. government agency that was created in 1971, known as the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), helps reduce the risk through loan guarantees and political risk insurance. These investments help catalyze sustainable economic development and enables American companies to seize these opportunities where there is no commercial market, advancing U.S. economic and security interests. It is a win-win.

As companies turn a profit and pay back their loans with interest, it’s a tool that also makes money for the U.S. taxpayer and has returned nearly $4 billion back to the Treasury in deficit reduction over the last 10 years. Last year, every dollar that OPIC invested leveraged another $2.55 in additional financing for critical economic development initiatives. Make no mistake, development finance is not a replacement for foreign assistance investments. Both provide critical sources of leverage, but our current efforts are simply far too small and underutilized to help fully advance our national security interests, fight global poverty, and ensure American businesses can compete in the world.

The fact is that from Scandinavia to South Korea, America is getting outcompeted on this critical part of our economic development toolkit. Across the pond, where the economy of the United Kingdom is seven times smaller than ours, the British proposed quadrupling their development finance portfolio last year to $60 billion, which would be double that of the current OPIC financing limit. If you compare us to the Dutch, our economy is 24 times bigger, but they’ve got 50 percent more staff than we do at their development finance agency.

Fortunately, both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue agree that it’s time we up our game and put our development finance tools on steroids. Sens. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerOn The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Senators hammers Ross on Trump tariffs | EU levies tariffs on US goods | Senate rejects Trump plan to claw back spending Senators hammer Ross over Trump tariffs GOP senator demands details on 'damaging' tariffs MORE (R-Tenn.) and Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsSenate moderates hunt for compromise on family separation bill All the times Horowitz contradicted Wray — but nobody seemed to notice Hillicon Valley: Trump hits China with massive tech tariffs | Facebook meets with GOP leaders over bias allegations | Judge sends Manafort to jail ahead of trial | AT&T completes Time Warner purchase MORE (D-Del.) alongside Reps. Ted YohoTheodore (Ted) Scott YohoVA needs to fire dangerous doctors and improve hiring practices, oversight Lawmakers seek to limit US involvement in Yemen's civil war House lawmaker introduces bill to halt F-35 sale to Turkey MORE (R-Fla.) and Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithObstacles to Trump's 'Space Force' could keep proposal grounded for now Dem congresswoman: Imprisoned asylum-seeking women have no idea where their children are Overnight Defense: Latest on scrapped Korea summit | North Korea still open to talks | Pentagon says no change in military posture | House passes 6B defense bill | Senate version advances MORE (D-Wash.) recently introduced the Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development Act of 2018. This bipartisan legislation builds on the smart effort by the administration, spearheaded by OPIC president Ray Washburne, that has been picking up steam since the latest national security strategy called for America to “modernize its development finance tools so that U.S. companies have incentives to capitalize on opportunities in developing countries.”

While Congress and the administration still have to fine tune all the details, the legislation would create a new U.S. development finance agency, streamline our current programs, and double the size of our development finance portfolio to $60 billion. This would be game-changing throughout the developing world. Whether we want to help a key ally like Jordan increase its power generation, empower sheep herders in western Afghanistan get their wool to markets, or transform the Rwandan coffee sector, development finance is central to how we lift communities out of poverty and promote stability.

With nearly 90 percent of financial flows to the developing world now coming from private sources, the key for America’s global development toolkit is how we use government dollars to catalyze and unleash the private sector not only through compacts with the Millenium Challenge Corporation, partnerships with USAID, volunteers for the Peace Corps, and investments in our multilateral institutions, but also through a robust development finance agenda.

In this tumultuous political season, what’s remarkable is that everyone seems to agree on this, from President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP lawmakers preparing to vote on bill allowing migrant children to be detained longer than 20 days: report Wasserman Schultz: Infants separated from their parents are in Florida immigrant shelters Ex-White House ethics chief: Sarah Sanders tweet violates ethics laws MORE to Democrats and Republicans in Congress. As of late, they aren’t agreeing on much. Given the stakes and the opportunity, America now has a significant plan to strengthen our development finance toolkit. It’s time we have an issue that everyone can get behind, so that America isn’t left behind.

Liz Schrayer is president and CEO of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, an alliance of more than 500 businesses and organizations that advocates for American diplomatic and developmental efforts around the world.