AmCham Business Forum

Chargé Kostelancik is speaking at AmCham (Embassy photo: Attila Nemeth)

Remarks by Chargé d’Affaires, a.i. David J. Kostelancik

at the AmCham Business Forum with Deputy Foreign Minister László Szabó
June 29, 2017, Kempinski Hotel Corvinus


– as prepared – 

Good afternoon, dear guests.  On behalf of the U.S. Government, I offer my sincere thanks to Farkas [Barsony, AmCham President] and to Irisz and her team at the American Chamber of Commerce in Hungary for your excellent work in advancing commerce between our countries.

And I’m honored to share the stage with Deputy Minister Szabo.  Laszlo– soon to be Ambassador Szabo– and I have developed a solid working relationship in recent months, as he prepares for his upcoming assignment in the United States.  We look forward very much to having you in Washington, DC and working in tandem with the breadth of the U.S. Government to strengthen our ties.

With his private-sector background in the United States and his experience with trade promotion, Laszlo is uniquely positioned to help advance our trade ties.  I think his appointment as Hungary’s Ambassador to the United States shows how seriously our Hungarian partners take this issue.

I’ve served almost a year in Hungary and I’ve come to admire Hungary’s sharp focus on strengthening bilateral trade and investment, as this is also a top policy priority for the U.S. Government.  I think you’ve heard this statistic many times, but it’s one we like to emphasize, because it is significant:  American businesses here employ close to 100,000 Hungarians, making the United States the second largest investor in Hungary.  These investments are good for both of our countries.  American businesses here contribute to economic growth, they introduce good business practices, they pay taxes, they are active members of local communities, and they create well-paying jobs for Hungarians.  That is very important.

I’ve had the pleasure of visiting many of the American companies that are flourishing here, such as GE, Citi, IBM, and newcomers such as BlackRock.  The executives that I meet with compliment Hungary’s business friendly environment, its central location, and its skilled workforce.  They also appreciate the help they receive from the Hungarian government.  Companies are far more likely to succeed and grow if they can work with a government – which is the case – that cares about competition and innovation and that can help with finding new partners, making sales, and launching investments.

Some of the things that have been happening recently:

  • Earlier this week, I was pleased to join many of our counterparts in the Hungarian government and hosting the second annual U.S.-Hungary Business Council delegation visit to Budapest, with the goal of realizing more business and investment opportunities for American firms here.
  • Two weeks ago, we were pleased to support the visit of Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb, who came to Hungary for extensive talks and to sign a new MOU designed to increase the state’s commercial, academic, and cultural ties with Hungary.
  • In addition, earlier this month we led our second Hungarian business delegation to the annual SelectUSA Investment Summit in Washington D.C. 23 Hungarian companies toured various parts of the country and evaluated investment opportunities to expand their markets in the United States.  We hope to repeat that again in 2018, as next year’s Summit was announced just last week.

Clearly, there is significant interest in more trade and business development between our two countries, and as a government we are committed to doing everything we can to turn this interest into actual investment decisions.  The U.S. Embassy here in Budapest is very committed to helping in any way we can.

Naturally, the immediate focus of our conversation today is business, and the words of the day are “trade,” “investment,” and “growth.”  From my interactions with business leaders, though, I know that there are a lot of issues that factor into investment and trade decisions beyond explicit commercial considerations.

One of those factors is the stability and depth of the broader bilateral relationship.  I can say with confidence that the U.S.-Hungary bilateral relationship rests on some strong foundations:

  • The strongest of these is, of course, NATO, and as NATO allies we are working closely together on a full spectrum of defense and security cooperation issues. This summer Hungary will once again host several military exercises for NATO allies as part of our ongoing efforts to enhance our collective deterrence capabilities and ensure the interoperability of our armed forces.
  • We also work closely in the context of the European Union, and view EU members as our natural allies on a wide range of regional and global issues.
  • We are both members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and as such have committed ourselves to a core set of values concerning human rights, democratic institutions, and the rule of law.
  • In the field of law enforcement, we are working together through the International Law Enforcement Academy, a joint initiative to strengthen democratic governance of participant countries within the region and to promote social, political, and economic stability by combating transnational organized crime. The Academy provides high-quality training and technical assistance, supports institution building and enforcement capability, and fosters relationships among law enforcement agencies throughout the region.  The United States and Hungary as the leaders play a very important role in that.  The Academy has trained more than 20,000 law enforcement professionals since it was founded in 1995.
  • Through our Environment, Science, Technology and Health Regional Hub Office, we promote cooperation and exchanges between U.S. and Hungarian public and private sector organizations.  Our Embassy Science Fellows program has provided expertise from U.S. Government agencies on forest management and biodiversity.  Our Global Innovation Through Science and Technology webinars have empowered young innovators with networking and mentoring opportunities to learn how to launch successful startups.
  • The Embassy administers multiple exchanges, expert speakers, and cultural programs in Hungary to share ideas, expertise, and culture between Hungarians and Americans, and promote a deeper understanding of each other.
  • Our exchange programs are particularly effective tools for building in-depth ties between Americans and Hungarians. Perhaps the most well-known exchange initiative is the Fulbright Program, but there are a number of other exchanges as well.

Not all of these programs and initiatives make headlines, but they represent an extensive commitment of resources and energy on both sides, all with the goal of building and maintaining a very healthy and functional friendship between the United States and Hungary.

My interlocutors in the business community talk about another important factor in the investment and trade calculus.  That is, broadly speaking, the issue of the investment climate.  They often ask the questions:

Will Hungary treat my business fairly?

Will Hungarian courts be fair in resolving disputes and upholding contracts?

Is government decision-making predictable and transparent?

Is corruption a major concern in the country?

Will my business have a fair chance to compete in the public procurement process?

As many of you know, the U.S. State Department publishes an annual Investment Climate Statement that examines these exact questions for most countries around the world.  The 2017 Investment Climate Statements for Hungary and for the World are scheduled for release today in Washington D.C.  I can say the Statement for Hungary will present the significant advantages to investing and doing business in Hungary, many of which we’ve discussed here today.  It will also present some of the challenges that potential foreign investors face in Hungary–challenges such as corruption or unpredictability.

These issues are very important to American investors in Hungary – potential or actual, and they are a large part of the reason that we, the U.S. Government, frequently talk about the need for transparency, the rule of law, and effective democratic institutions.  We do that as a friend, as an ally, as a partner.

As the Investment Climate Statement will demonstrate, problems with corruption and transparency and arbitrary rule making do not exist in some separate, political sphere, distinct from the world of business and entrepreneurship.  In fact, they directly color the investment climate.

As I said earlier, we as Embassy are committed to doing everything we can to boosting bilateral trade and investment between Hungary and the United States.  We have a strong foundation to build on and a shared goal, and I see the potential for many more success stories to occur thanks to the work of Dr. Szabó and you all that will benefit both of our countries in the years ahead.  To get there, though, we must be honest and constructive when there are issues to be discussed, and I can say that the United States is committed to working with Hungary to address the challenges as a partner and a friend.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today, and on behalf of myself and my team at the Embassy, we look forward to continuing the conversation in the days and months and years ahead.