Remarks by Ambassador Mary Burce Warlick - AmCham in Serbia
"We are working toward a prosperous, European and globally integrated future for Serbia"
05. March 2010. | 16:28
Thank you very much, Skip, for that kind introduction. It is a real pleasure to be with all of you here today and a great honor to have been invited to make my first formal remarks since my arrival in Belgrade to the AmCham membership. I would like to thank the Board of Governors and the Executive team, in particular, as well as each one of you representing member companies of the AmCham for taking the time to be here this afternoon.
As some of you know, I have spent most of my long career in the U.S. Foreign Service working with American companies and promoting U.S. business interests around the world. As a result, I have a profound appreciation for the responsibility of our government to support and advance U.S. trade and investment activities. I also believe firmly in the critical contribution that U.S. businesses make to our bilateral relationships. So, what I would like to do today is offer a few thoughts about some of the ways in which we -- working together as partners -- might continue to build and strengthen the U.S.-Serbia economic and commercial relationship – and our bilateral relationship more broadly.
Now I've only been here a short time – a little over five weeks at this point. But I have had the opportunity already to speak with many people both in and outside of government. And I have to say I have been very impressed by the consistently expressed aspiration for a democratic and prosperous future for this country -- one commensurate with the talents of Serbia's people and with its traditions of success. I am also very encouraged by the value so many people have told me they place on Serbia’s relationship with the United States and our shared goals for Serbia’s future. So, first and foremost, I’d like to reiterate the U.S. government's strong commitment to supporting peace, stability and prosperity in Serbia and the entire Western Balkans region, as well as my own commitment to do all I can to help Serbia realize its own goals for a better and brighter future.
As Skip noted, Vice President Biden’s visit to Belgrade last May was a powerful signal of the Obama Administration’s intent to set a new tone and pursue an important new chapter in U.S.-Serbia relations. President Tadic’s trip to the U.S. in the fall and the recent visits of several Serbian Government Ministers to the United States have broadened and deepened our renewed commitment to work together to achieve common goals. In this connection, I was recently honored to host the visits two weeks ago by Senators George Voinovich and Jeanne Shaheen, and then by Congressman Earl Pomeroy, which further highlighted the importance both sides place on our growing relationship.
I believe we -- and by “we” I mean the U.S. government, the Serbian government, and certainly you in the business community -- are working toward a common goal: that is, achieving a prosperous, European and globally integrated future for Serbia. In just the past few months, Serbia has made significant strides towards greater integration with the rest of Europe. As you know, top among those achievements were visa free entry for Serbian citizens into the 27 countries that make up the Schengen area, bilateral implementation of the Interim Trade Agreement, and formal submission of Serbia’s application for EU candidacy.
However, a truly globally integrated future for Serbia encompasses even more than integration into European institutions. We support Serbia’s full integration into global institutions such as the World Trade Organization, as well as greater economic and commercial cooperation between Serbia and its neighbors.
I hope there is no doubt, but just to be clear: the U.S. government, and above all the US Embassy in Belgrade, is fully committed to working collaboratively with the Serbian Government to accomplish these goals. At the same time, I’d like to call upon your organization, the American Chamber of Commerce, as the leading voice of U.S. business in Serbia, to continue all that you are already doing to encourage the Government to accelerate the reforms that will allow it to achieve, as soon as possible, these ambitious but vitally important goals.
As I just mentioned, a key, quantifiable and achievable goal on this path is membership into the global trading system that is the World Trade Organization, or WTO. Our Embassy is proud to be working with Serbian government officials on resolving issues that will lead to Serbia’s WTO membership. Our Foreign Agricultural Service, for example, facilitates a U.S. Department of Agriculture Technical Assistance Program to assist Serbia in its WTO accession process. This support aims to help Serbia establish a trade regime consistent with the WTO and other international standards-setting. Our Foreign Agricultural Service office is currently assisting the Serbian Ministry of Agriculture to amend the new Law on Genetically Modified Organisms – or GMO’s -- to bring Serbia's GMO regime into WTO compliance and advance Serbia's WTO negotiations.
In addition, USAID has also been directly advising the Government of Serbia for several years now on its WTO candidacy. Through our USAID program we have been supporting the Government of Serbia and its technical ministries in preparing Serbia’s submissions to the WTO secretariat. We have also been supporting Serbia's preparations for bilateral negotiations that have been conducted through the multilateral Working Party process in Geneva. While most of the technical work has been completed, USAID will continue to provide a long term advisor and a senior legal expert to support the Ministry of Economy until the accession process is completed.
Chief among the benefits of WTO membership are two of its most fundamental principles: helping trade to flow smoothly, and providing countries with a constructive and fair mechanism for dealing with disputes over trade issues. The WTO’s global system lowers trade barriers through negotiation and applies the principle of non-discrimination. The result is reduced costs of production due to cheaper imports used in production and reduced prices of finished goods and services, and ultimately a lower cost of living.
Lowering trade barriers allows trade to increase, which adds to incomes -- national incomes and personal incomes. The WTO’s own estimates for the impact of the 1994 Uruguay Round trade deal were between $109 billion and $510 billion added to world income. WTO membership would be a significant step towards Serbia becoming a global partner and would play a vital role in creating and reinforcing international confidence and cooperation. As such, WTO membership can only make Serbia a more attractive foreign direct investment destination.
Having met and spoken with many of you already, I am more convinced than ever that increasing the number of significant foreign investments in Serbia can only be a win-win. The benefits to the government are obvious, in terms of economic growth, job creation, and potential revenue. The benefits to you in the business community are equally obvious, in terms of growing your market access opportunities, customers, and potential partners.
The Serbian Government has made great progress over the past seven to eight years in opening Serbia to foreign investment and attracting many blue chip companies. U.S. companies alone have thus far invested over $1.5 billion in Serbia and directly employ over 8,000 people, a number that increases dramatically if you factor in jobs created and sustained by the downstream business of these investors. While the United States is a leading foreign investor in Serbia, I have to admit that the level of our bilateral trade has significant room to grow.
At the same time, notwithstanding the economic crisis, I think all of us – including the Serbian Government -- would like to see more momentum in the pace and scope of new investment and trade.
Serbia’s ability to attract investment in this very difficult global economy is certain to have an impact on the country's competitiveness, both regionally and in the broader international market. One of Serbia's biggest challenges will be to transition from privatization-driven investment to greenfield investment. Another key challenge will be to focus not only on the approval of necessary new laws and regulations, but also on the speedy implementation and consistent enforcement of those laws. Specifically, institutions must have the capacity, and the necessary support, to implement reform measures in a fair, transparent, and equitable manner.
In my discussions with Government leaders, I will continue to advocate the need to press ahead with reform legislation, to follow through on the recommendations of the National Competitiveness Council which many of you have contributed toward, and to move quickly to implement the regulatory guillotine process. These steps will build the foundation for a stronger and more vibrant business community. I would like to thank all of you in the AmCham for the work you have already done in pressing for these reforms, and I hope you will join me in continuing to call for their speedy implementation. I also hope that you will take every opportunity to reiterate how much Serbia's economic future depends on advancing reforms, clearing away bureaucracy, enhancing the rule of law, and strengthening democratic institutions.
AmCham has shown impressive leadership in working with other business organizations, including the Foreign Investors Council, NALED and the Serbian Chamber of Commerce to put together a broad-based business agenda to present to the Government. This is exactly the kind of initiative that I encourage you to follow-up on, and to expand. There is no doubt that businesses and business leaders, working together to advance a common agenda in support of the private sector, have a much stronger chance of maximizing their effect when they collaborate well and speak with one voice as you so clearly have done.
I spoke earlier of global integration. I would also like to say a few words about the importance of regional cooperation. As I mentioned earlier, one of the United States' priorities in the Western Balkans is to see greater partnership and cooperation across the region. I am confident that all the countries in this region will continue to achieve steady progress toward their shared goal of European integration. However, the depth and pace of reform and growth will depend on each country’s own political commitment and active participation. Partnership and regional approaches that build on shared interests will bring the greatest success, individually and collectively, to each of the countries in the Balkans. To realize its full potential, Serbia, too, will need to deepen its engagement and seek to reduce remaining trade and investment and other barriers with each of its neighbors.
The creation of a business environment that fosters innovation, competitiveness, and entrepreneurship could offer potentially significant benefits to Serbia, as well as other countries in the region. These are the hallmarks of a successful and prosperous economy, not to mention a beacon for foreign investors. These are the concepts that are the key to developing a strong and thriving local economy. They are also the concepts that, when approached on a regional level, will make the sum of the countries stronger than any one individual country. Much more should be done to aid the development of these concepts through educational reform, promoting regional development, small to medium size business programs, and public private partnerships.
I would like to close by speaking briefly about an issue that I feel strongly about -- Corporate Social Responsibility. I believe it is critical for U.S. and other AmCham member companies to continue to lead the way in demonstrating positive models for other companies in the areas of business ethics, community partnerships, and active participation in humanitarian initiatives. I am pleased that with the assistance of the United States through USAID, the Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC’s) Civil Society Advocacy Initiative and Smart Kolektiv, we have together established the Business Leaders Forum, a coalition of companies working together to encourage corporate social responsibility in Serbia. The Business Leaders Forum -- which I understand many of you are members of -- provides an important springboard for even more systematic cooperation between companies and civil society organizations.
I was encouraged to learn from my earlier meeting with your Board of Governors that AmCham, too, is increasing its activities to promote corporate social responsibility activities. The U.S. Embassy is pleased to be partnering with AmCham in developing a new program on business ethics. The “diplomacy of deeds,” as it’s called, is an important framework for advancing growth and development that is good for business. I will continue to work closely with all of you in these efforts.
Finally, let me conclude by reiterating just how much I look forward to working with all of you in the AmCham to advance our common vision of a peaceful and prosperous future for Serbia, reinforced by a commitment to stable and stronger relations between our two countries. While there is much work to be done, I am confident that with goodwill, determination and optimism we can achieve great things that can be a lasting contribution, both for the business community in Serbia, as well as for the promising future of this country.
Once again, my sincere thanks for the opportunity to join you today. I wish each one of you the very best of success.