Clayton welcomes top ambassadors from Ivory Coast

Clayton County officials are hoping a visit from the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire's ambassadors to the U.S., and the United Nations, will lead to new trade relations between the county and the west African nation.

Clayton County officials have been targeting seven western African countries, including the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire (also known as the Ivory Coast), for trade relations for the last five years, said the county's Director of Economic Development Grant Wainscott.

Some of the other western African nations, he said county officials want to develop ties with, include Senegal, Gambia and Liberia.

Wainscott, and Clayton State University Director of International Programs John Parkerson feted the tiny nation's Ambassador to the United Nations, His Excellency Youssoufou Bamba, and its Ambassador to the U.S., His Excellency Daouda Diabate, during a private reception, at the Arts Clayton Gallery in Jonesboro on Friday. Parkerson is the honorary consulate for the Republic of Hungary.

The ambassadors are visiting Georgia on a diplomatic mission, Wainscott said.

"Your visit this evening is just the beginning of what we hope will be a long and prosperous partnership between Georgia, Atlanta and Clayton County, and the Ivory Coast," Wainscott told the visiting ambassadors. "We look forward, with much anticipation, [to] building on common grounds, as we strive to develop cultural, educational and economic development ties between our two regions."

Western Africa is not the only part of the world Clayton County officials are targeting to build trade relations with, according to Wainscott. He pointed out the county is also working to build relationships with countries in eastern Europe and Latin America. He said the ultimate goal in hosting the Côte d'Ivoire's ambassadors is that it will lead to the nation's establishing a consulate's office in Clayton County.

Bamba said that he and Diabate were "honored" to visit Clayton County, as they begin taking steps to develop a relationship with the U.S. He explained the west African nation is in a period of political transition and turmoil, because it recently elected a new president, but its former president, Laurent Gbagbo, is refusing to step down.

Bamba said he and Diabate were appointed the newly-elected president.

"It is our great honor to be here because Côte d'Ivoire is on the verge of a new start as a democracy, and we know the great nation of the United States is the standard of democracy," Bamba said. He later added "We want to build ties with you. We want to make business with you. We have great expectations of this relationship, not just with the United States, but through this very community of Clayton."

Bamba said that Diabate was not authorized to formally speak on behalf of the Côte d'Ivoire's. He has just been appointed as the nation's ambassador to the U.S., but has not yet delivered his diplomatic papers to President Barack Obama. Wainscott said that will happen next week.

Wainscott said he is planning to eventually open a small international trade facility, which would house honorary consulates from foreign nations, near Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, on Charles W. Grant Parkway.

Wainscott explained the county is looking at developing nations as trade partners because many other communities are not yet looking at them. "A lot of people are focusing on developed nations in Europe and Asia, but there are fewer people working with developing economies in the world," he said.

He added that western Africa is an area the county is looking at because there are "a tremendous amount of west Africans in the Atlanta area."

Clayton County Chamber of Commerce President Yulonda Beauford said the county has an important asset that helps it make a case for trade relations: It is home to the airport, which is often referred to as "The World's Busiest Airport." She said it is important then for the county to make itself approachable to foreign countries, so it can build an international trade industry.

"International relations is critically important to the county, especially with the proximity to the airport," Beauford said. "It's important for us to open our arms to the international community."

Parkerson explained that events held to welcome the ambassadors to Clayton County, such as the reception, will benefit the county in the long run, because they will help the county stand out in the memories of its foreign visitors.

"It brings additional recognition that Clayton County is a multicultural community, and it welcomes foreign businesses," Parkerson said. "When they go to Washington [D.C.], they'll talk to their colleagues from other foreign nations about Clayton County, and how they were made to feel welcome here."