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U.S. ambassador, Hungarian counterpart stress ties

American Ambassador to Hungary Colleen Bell brought up her familiar complaint about corruption in Hungary at a January 20 address to AmCham, but she also spoke of the special Hungarian-American relationship with Hungary in a gathering that also featured her counterpart, Réka Szemerkényi. The two spoke before an AmCham Hungary business forum.

The two ambassadors both talked up the predominately positive aspects, particularly when it comes to trade, of bilateral relations at the AmCham Hungary business forum in the Budapest Marriott Hotel.

Ambassador Bell talked of “my good friend”, while Ambassador Szemerkényi spoke of a “good friend and partner”, and an “exceptional counterpart”. AmCham hosted a similar joint event last year, now the two women were reflecting on their first 12 months in post, a period the American described as “a pleasurable whirlwind”. And the diplomats agreed the relationship was in rude health.

“It is abundantly clear that the United States and Hungary have a robust commercial relationship,” said Ambassador Bell. “One of my goals during my second year is to see that [expansion] happen…. I want to make sure the relationship continues to expand for many years to come: I am committed to that.” Her Hungarian counterpart described AmCham as part of the “bedrock of the relationship” and described its member companies as “one of the most important bridges” connecting the two nations. The United States is the largest non-European investor in Hungary, she said, with investments totaling $9 billion to date; the 1,700 U.S. companies in Hungary provide jobs for some 90,000 Hungarians, making for “very profound and healthy economic links,” Szemerkényi noted. But she pointed out that bilateral connections were not based on trade alone. “Economic ties have never been stronger than today, but these do not exist in a vacuum, they are imbedded in, and part of, a deeper friendship and alliance that is indispensable.” The two countries are “strategic partners, allies and friends”, she said.

The ambassadors also agreed on the importance of the on-going Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) free trade talks between Europe and America. Bell acknowledged there were hurdles to overcome, but said there were also huge gains on offer for all, saying such mechanisms have “lifted millions out of poverty since World War Two”. She added that the United States very much appreciates the public support for T-TIP offered by Hungary’s prime minister and foreign and trade minister. For her part, Szemerkényi said T-TIP was not just about simplifying and harmonizing a few rules, helpful though that might be. “It is a strategic agreement for us.”

The Hungarian Ambassador made specific mention of the importance of NATO given the multiple challenges of Ukraine, the Middle East, growing terrorist threats and the on-going migrant crisis. “We need friends, and the best friends can be found among those with which we share values,” she said.

Her American colleague commented: “We continue to believe this relationship is significant and can improve if we remove impediments and disincentives.” She went on to mention an issue she has raised several times, corruption, which she said, “remains a serious problem in this region. In Hungary, businesses have identified favoritism and dispersal of public funds as major concerns. We will continue to work with the Hungarian government, civil society and business leaders to promote transparency, accountability, and business practices that increase opportunities for commerce and prosperity for all of its citizens.”

Bell said the embassy and the U.S. Commercial Service offered “matchmaking” facilities to introduce Hungarian companies to potential business partners in America, and she hopes to lead Hungarian delegations to trade fairs in Europe and the States. “This year I would like to concentrate on the younger generation of entrepreneurs. I would like to take a small group to Silicon Valley,” she said, adding that she has good contacts there.