Thank you Dr. Nemescsói, for your kind introduction, and thank you Ferenc for the invitation to speak at this event. I am also delighted to share the stage with Minister of Justice Trócsányi. Minister Trócsányi, panelists, and American Chamber of Commerce members, good morning. AmCham’s efforts have been an essential component to the growth of commercial ties between Hungary and the United States. Today’s conference on Practical Compliance is another example of your great work.
One of my top priorities as Ambassador is increasing trade and investment between the United States and Hungary. Investment and trade mean jobs and economic development for both our countries. I am pleased that our bilateral trade has been on the rise. Recent data indicate our trade is now over $7 billion annually, an impressive number. Of course, I think we can do better.
Today’s conference on transparency and compliance directly addresses key factors that will help our trade grow. My own experience as an international business executive has shown that transparency and predictability are intimately linked to trade, investment, and economic growth. Attracting investment depends completely on predictability, a level playing field, and ensuring that competitors follow the rules.
American investors are drawn to Hungary’s high-quality infrastructure, its cost-effective labor force, and its central location. But many people tell me that foreign direct investment in Hungary has not reached its full potential. Investors are concerned about stability in the tax and regulatory environment, public corruption, and also about competitors who sidestep regulations and taxes. I am confident that we can improve our commercial relationship significantly if we can remove some of these impediments and disincentives to doing business.
The United States is mounting a global campaign to tackle corruption, which unfortunately exists in our country as well. As Minister Trócsányi is aware, we ask the Hungarian government to increase transparency, and for concrete, public actions to hold government officials accountable for wrong doing. We think it is important for the government to publicize these actions to build public confidence in the system. I was pleased to see that parliament passed a new public procurement law last week and hope that the new requirements in the law aid efforts to increase government transparency and reduce corruption in Hungary.
We have great examples of our cooperation with the Hungarian government combating crime and corruption that I would like to share. The International Law Enforcement Academy –ILEA – is one of the biggest successes of our bilateral relationship. ILEA, a joint effort by the United States and Hungarian governments established in 1995, trains over 1,200 law enforcement officials every year. As part of their curriculum, ILEA has anti-corruption courses that emphasize how corrupt public officials enable criminal activity and the courses demonstrate how to root out corruption. Next year ILEA will expand its focus on these issues.
My embassy also uses our resources to speak on this issue through training for journalists, who should report on corruption wherever it exists; for government officials, who can change the system to eliminate loopholes where they find them; and for civil society leaders, who can help all of us continue to seek good governance, transparency, and accountability.
Finally, the private sector also has an essential role to play in promoting transparency. I cannot emphasize this enough. It’s your responsibility to ensure that your procedures and controls are in line with the rules. This “Practical Compliance” not only reduces your risk, it contributes to transparency, efficiency, and a level playing field in the general market as well, ultimately incentivizing increased investment and growth. Today, I encourage you to all share your best practices and to place compliance and transparency at the top of your business priorities.
Thank you again for your warm welcome. We are always happy to engage with the business community. Have a great conference.