– as delivered –
Madam Ambassador, President Pongrácz, Ms. Lippai-Nagy, Mr. Benkő, ladies and gentlemen. Good afternoon and thank you for welcoming me to this second iteration of the “Dual Ambassadors’ Chat!”
It is a great pleasure for me to be able to share the stage once again with my good friend Reka Szemerkényi under the auspices of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hungary. We both now have a year of experience as ambassador. I am sure it is the same with Ambassador Szemerkényi, but I can say for sure that I’ve learned a lot over the last 12 months. When we last were all together, I had just returned from attending a plant expansion of the American aluminum manufacturer Alcoa. Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of attending quite a few plant expansions and new investment announcements. For example, I’ve attended the openings and expansions at the audio equipment maker Harmon Kardon, General Motors/Opel, GE Lighting, and also had the opportunity to visit one of America’s oldest manufacturers, National Cash Register (also known as NCR) to celebrate the production of their 300,000th ATM. It’s been enjoyable and demanding, and I am pleased to see how successful these U.S. companies have been in the Hungarian market.
It is abundantly clear that the U.S. and Hungary have a robust commercial relationship, but business can always expand, and one of my goals during my second year here is to see that happen.
Coming up in 2016, we have several chances to highlight Hungarian options for U.S. businesses. The first is in April in Germany at one of the world’s largest trade shows: Hannover Messe. This year, for the first time, the United States is the partner country at this industrial goods, services, and technology show. The U.S. Commercial Service will provide a match-making service for delegates from other countries, and I would like to lead a group of Hungarian companies to attend this show to meet their counterparts from the United States. Our Commercial Service Officer and Office are recruiting Hungarian companies to travel to this show, either to exhibit or just for networking with some of the 200 or so U.S. companies that will be exhibiting there.
We are also recruiting Hungarian companies to attend the SelectUSA Summit in June in Washington, D.C. This event is designed to attract companies from all over the world who are looking to invest, develop a joint venture, or raise venture capital. Last year, over 2,700 companies, business service firms, and economic development organizations from all over the world attended SelectUSA in Washington. We expect an equal amount this year and I hope to lead a group of Hungarian companies to this event. It’s first come, first served! Dale Wright, the chief of our Commercial Service Office, is your main point of contact if you would like to register.
We are working with both HIPA and the Hungarian Trade House on both of these events.
Finally, during my tenure here, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with many of the largest U.S. firms doing business in Hungary and it has given me great perspective on the challenges and opportunities of doing business here. This year, I would like to also concentrate on the newest generation of Hungarian entrepreneurs. We will work with the Hungarian Government and other entities to help them develop their skills, find venture capital, and partner with American companies so Hungarians can build more robust companies. Toward that end, I’d like to take a small group of such companies to Silicon Valley. The contacts I have there, combined with the assistance of our Commercial Service, means we can put together a fantastic, high-tech trade mission that would be beneficial to both Hungarian and American companies.
While we have strong commercial relationships, I continue to believe this relationship can significantly improve if we remove impediments and disincentives to doing business. As I have mentioned on many occasions, corruption remains a serious problem in the region. President Obama referred to corruption as the single greatest barrier to prosperity and a profound violation of human rights. The World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Survey shows that in Hungary, businesses identify favoritism and diversion of public funds as a major concern. Thus, we will continue to work with the Hungarian Government, civil society, and business leaders to promote transparency, accountability, and business practices that increase opportunity for commerce and prosperity for all of its citizens.
Both Hungary and the United States have ambassadors who promote our commercial relationship. The biggest initiative to expand bilateral trade—one on which the United States and European Union are cooperating—is, of course, TTIP. I’ve talked a lot about TTIP and we all know there are stumbling blocks, but hurdles aside, and I know we’ll get through them, these kinds of trade treaties have proven a huge economic development boon around the world. Free trade has been the mechanism that has lifted millions out of poverty since WWII.
And Minister Szijjarto has said on multiple occasions, TTIP will create 20,000 to 30,000 new jobs in Hungary. I hope Europe will seize the opportunity to complete this treaty. This treaty is important, and I want to emphasize that the United States greatly appreciates Prime Minister Orban and Minister Szijjarto support for TTIP.
So these are just some of the plans and opportunities we have in the works for 2016. I expect to be very active this year. I want to ensure that our bilateral commercial relationship keeps growing for many, many years to come and I am committed to that.