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‘Be Brave’ Ambassador-to-be Tells AmCham

The American Chamber of Commerce in Hungary was singled out for singular praise by Hungary’s pick to be its next man in Washington, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade László Szabó. Addressing an AmCham Podium event, Szabó described the chamber as “one of the brain parents” of the “Invented in Hungary” approach the government is now advocating.

A Q&A session was moderated by Dr. Judit Zolnay, CEO of MetLife Hungary.

Chargé d’Affaires David J. Kostelancik.

Deputy Minister László Szabó.

Speaking at the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest on June 29, and sharing the podium with U.S. Embassy Chargé d’Affaires David J. Kostelancik, the deputy minister admitted to being a fan of AmCham, having been a member in his private sector days through two pharmaceutical companies. “AmCham has had a tremendous impact on economic policy,” he said, referencing the chamber’s advocacy in recent years.

The government’s switch from a “Made in Hungary” philosophy to an “Invented in Hungary” mind set “could be credited to AmCham from your strategy papers”. The same could be said, at least partially, about the decision to lower the corporate tax. “I encourage you to be brave, to come up with ideas and make sure the Hungarian government listens to them.”

Speaking about his role as Hungary’s Ambassador to the United States (he is due to fly out with his family in this summer), Szabó said there was much to build on in terms of bilateral trade: America is Hungary’s number one export partner outside Europe, and is number two on the list of foreign investors in Hungary, with investments totaling USD 18 billion creating 93,000 jobs. “I still believe we have a lot to offer each other. I am very optimistic there is a lot of low hanging fruits in our bilateral trade.”

Energy Security

In terms of energy security, he said he would do all he could to help U.S. liquid natural gas reach the shores of Croatia. “If we achieve that one thing I would feel very comfortable about my success [as ambassador],” he said.

Kostelancik praised the choice of Szabó as the next ambassador in Washington. “With his private-sector background in the United States and his experience with trade promotion, László 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.”

The diplomat said he had “come to admire Hungary’s sharp focus on strengthening bilateral trade and investment”. U.S. investments in Hungary “are good for both of our countries”, he said. “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.”

He said that U.S. executives he meets in his work compliment Hungary’s business friendly environment, and “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.”

Talking of the stability and depth of the broader bilateral relationship Kostelancik added “I can say with absolute confidence that the U.S.-Hungary bilateral relationship rests on some strong foundations”, the strongest and most obvious of which is NATO.

Investment Climate Statement

On the same day that he was speaking, the State Department’s 2017 Investment Climate Statements for Hungary and for the World were to be released in Washington D.C. “I can say the Statement for Hungary will present the significant advantages to investing and doing business in Hungary. [….] It will also present some of the challenges that potential foreign investors face in Hungary – challenges such as corruption or unpredictability,” he said.

“We as an 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,” Kostelancik said.  

“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. 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,” he added.