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U.S. special representative for Ukraine talks economic recovery

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

President Biden has tapped former Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker to serve as his special representative for Ukraine's economic recovery. Pritzker's goal is to work with the Ukrainian government, financial institutions and American companies to, quote, "help forge Ukraine's future as a prosperous, secure European democracy." That's according to a press release from the State Department. But what does that look like in a country that is still at war? Well, let's ask Penny Pritzker herself what she thinks. She joins us now. Welcome.

PENNY PRITZKER: Thank you so much for having me, Ailsa.

CHANG: Well, thank you for being with us. So yeah, how much can parts of Ukraine start rebuilding now while the war is still going on?

PRITZKER: Well, I think there's a real opportunity to start recovery now. First of all, the Ukrainian government is very much focused on it. They know that that will help them with their own resilience. And they have a lot to offer. Europe - you know, Ukraine is Europe's breadbasket. They're an IT hub. And they have a prospect of becoming a steel, critical minerals, wind and gas supplier to Europe.

CHANG: Let's talk about that breadbasket bit. As you know, the country was known as the so-called breadbasket of Europe. So what are the biggest barriers to rebuilding the country's agricultural sector?

PRITZKER: Well the challenges with agricultural are a couple in this sector. First is that there's been a lot of mining of the land, which - so there's going to be a big need for demining. And the second is really being able to actually...

CHANG: Just to be clear, we're talking about land mines?

PRITZKER: Exactly. And then there's the issue of being able to actually export the grain out of the country. And Russia, through their horrendous aggression, has been bombing not only the silos that contain the grain, but also then making it very difficult for the sea lanes to operate to get the grain out of the country, which is a real impediment for farmers.

CHANG: How do you think the U.S. can specifically help with the demining of the land there?

PRITZKER: Well, it's - demining is a very slow and laborious process. But unfortunately, there's been, you know, more war in the world, and so there's a lot of expertise to help with demining. And so, you know, it's something - the Ukrainians actually have developed their own expertise, and other countries are helping.

CHANG: OK. Do you see other emerging sectors in Ukraine's economy that you think might play a bigger role than agriculture after this war is over - assuming this war will be over one day?

PRITZKER: Absolutely. Well, I think, first of all, IT - there's a - they have - in fact, their technology sector has been growing. Metals and mining - they have enormous capability in that area. Transportation and logistics, energy - they have an opportunity to leapfrog their whole energy grid to become a green energy system. And then defense - defense manufacturing and providing - you know, rearming the West, which has been helping them, you know, to engage in this war.

CHANG: Well, let's talk about corruption because, I mean, Ukraine has long struggled with a reputation for corruption. What concerns the U.S. most specifically about corruption in the country there?

PRITZKER: Well, look, while Russia's war poses an external threat to the country, corruption poses an internal threat to Ukraine's democracy, to their sovereignty, to their European aspirations and, frankly, to their economic resilience. And the people of Ukraine know this, and they've been very clear about their support for reforms that will increase transparency and good governance. There are things like a need for an independent anti-corruption institution - independent courts that can enforce (inaudible) law. These are things that are absolutely essential, and we applaud President Zelenskyy's own commitment to countering and preventing corruption. And the European Council's unanimous decision to grant EU candidate status to Ukraine is also important here because, in order to gain status in the EU, Ukraine will have to continue reforms.

CHANG: Well, as you embark on this very difficult challenge of helping Ukraine recover economically, how do you account for Ukraine's population loss when considering how it can recover? I mean, how do you attract back those Ukrainians who have settled elsewhere after the invasion?

PRITZKER: Well, I think the thing to keep in mind is that, you know, Ukraine's recovery is essential to motivating people to return to the country. And I view the recovery as both a sprint and a marathon. We'll need to plan for long-term sustainable digital, clean, competitive, European Ukraine, but that's the marathon. But we also need results now to jumpstart the revival and give Ukrainians confidence in the hope to come home and start building towards the future. And there is economic activity happening - quite a bit of it. And there is economic opportunity in significant portions of the country.

CHANG: That is Penny Pritzker, the new special representative for Ukraine's economic recovery. Thank you so much for joining us today.

PRITZKER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tinbete Ermyas
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.