AmCham Bulgaria President’s Speech during General Assembly, July 9th

Dear Members and Guests,

On behalf of the AmCham Board of Directors, I would like to welcome you to the 2020 AmCham Bulgaria General Assembly.

We, the Board of Directors of the Chamber, decided to have such a meeting in order to continue the track of improvements of our organization and to better prepare for the 2020 Regular General Assembly.

As you all remember well, back in 2017 the Board initiated the first pack of the amendments to the Statutes. They aimed at ensuring the continuation of the work of the governing bodies of AmCham, introducing a more transparent voting procedure, reaffirming the ethical standards of the organization by introducing a Code of Business Conduct, and, most importantly, strengthening the presence of U.S. companies in the Board.

In order to continue this strategic development, we had to make another consecutive step towards strengthening our organization. I will focus on the proposed changes later today. I hope that all of you have read them and we are asking for your support.

What I must assure you is that neither of the proposed changes harms the transparency of the processes in the organization nor they undermine the representation of the American companies in our Board. On the contrary – they support them completely.

All of that will follow. Now, let me give you a brief update of what we have done to achieve our priorities and stand for our members.

Membership Overview

Dear members,

As of today we are having a solid membership base. If you remember, last year we reorganized the chamber and introduced new membership tiers based on the size and the impact on the economy. We presented this new structure to all of you. Our main goal was to give more visibility and to deepen the benefits, as well as to manage the processes better. So far, I can report a stable fee collection that reaches the budgeted amount.

COVID-19 Update

COVID-19 significantly impacted our personal lives. I hope neither of you has lost any relative or friend. Our prayers are with those that suffered such losses here in Bulgaria, in Europe, and in the United States.

The new reality united us in many ways. The digital-savvy companies and their leadership provided an arsenal that helped all the companies to continue their operation even from home. Others provided extra services, welcomed students at their virtual classrooms, gave more entertainment options thus helping many families to spend the lockdown in a meaningful way and with less stress.

Also, we shall not be tired to repeat that something unique happened in our AmCham Bulgaria history – the “United Against COVID-19” Fund collected more than 1 million leva for less than a month. It was a joint initiative of AmCham, the U.S. Embassy, the Bulgarian Donors’ Fund, and America for Bulgaria Foundation. Every one of those organizations gave their time, knowledge, and money for the joint cause to be successful. The numbers prove that we are right: nearly 700,000 people were reached, almost 300 places across Bulgaria. By our calculations, 70 or 80% of the funds were collected thanks to our members.

We are proud of these numbers and we would like to thank sponsors for their generosity. Our gratitude goes to the NGOs, hospitals, all of the beneficiaries that have the heart to help those in need, and the courage to be on the front line when the time has come. Please join me to applaud both groups – donors and the backbone of this society – the non-government sector and the medical workers.

Activities Highlights – January – July 2020

Policy and Advocacy

The lockdown, however, gave us a motivation to be active in the institutional field. AmCham Bulgaria has sent letters, positions, initiated a series of high-profile webinars and had an intensive communication with its members. Our goal was simple – to secure AmCham’s positioning as one of the impactful business organizations in Bulgaria, to provide benefits to our members.

During this period, I can say it with an open heart, we expanded our reach to our membership, to the European Commission, to Bulgarian ministries that are key to our work. We were an active member of the AmChams in Europe network, and we continued our partnership with AmCham EU and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. We tried to express our positions and values before public media.

Webinars

For month an a half we had a series of top-class webinars with key representatives of European and Bulgarian institutions. Let me just read those names because their acceptance of our invitations to speak before our members proves our reputation and gives added value to our members

By mentioning the webinars I should point out the one we had with the leadership of Penkov, Markov and Partners who gave us a thorough overview of then introduced 60/40 Rule.

Here I would like to thank the Board for their support and to ask them to invest even more time and resources for the sake of the Chamber. I would like to thank the team led by Petar for their work. I would like to thank our strongest ally – the U.S. Embassy, and personally Ambassador Mustafa – we had a great webinar with her which inspired us and gave us confidence that together – the Embassy and the Chamber – are partners that everyone should respect.

I would like to thank DCM Friedman, and Miguel personally. Gentlemen, we appreciate your support and guidance.

Last but not least, I would like to thank you all – our members. We rely on your continuous support by standing for a long list of causes. And the main among them is the rule of law and the sustainable business environment.

Our priorities 2019 – 2020

Having all said, let me remind you of our priorities:

  • Sustainable business environment,
  • Rule of law
  • Digital transformation
  • Education and human capital
  • Regional cooperation.

This General Assembly allows the Board to present something like a mid-year report of what we have done so far. I’ve already mentioned our webinars – which are a true evidence that thanks to the technologies of Cisco, Google and Microsoft with combination with our reputation and strive for success – provided benefits to our members.

Committees and Working Group Update

Our committees and working groups were extremely active to provide quality content and to deliver benefits to members in line with our priorities. Let me highlight some of them:

Energy and Mineral Resources Committee led by me and Alex Nestor had a joint webinar with the German Chamber on the future of the liberalization of the energy market in Bulgaria. They are also in coordination with mining companies with regard to the filed Bill for Amendment and Supplement of the Natural Resources Act.

HR and Education Committee led by Zlatina Kushkieva and Iva Todorova hosted a webinar with the Labor Minister Denitsa Sacheva. It aimed to provide more practical advice to members to apply for the 60/40 Rule, as well as to give more ideas for additional measures to protect employment for a smoother restart of the economy.

Also, the HR Committee needs your input on the Labor Code Amendments. So, please send yours quickly.

Digital Economy Committee led by Iva Todorova and Ivaylo Slavov – jointly with the E-Governance Committee led by Borislav Dimitrov and George Alexandrov – presented various  ways to adapt to the new normal. Also, they built the content of the webinar with minister Rossen Jeliazkov.

Also, they have initiated a draft position on how AmCham Bulgaria can be instrumental in the national plans for applying for the Next Gen EU Relief fund.

In addition, the E-Governance Committee is analyzing the digital policies that can be improved in order to restart the work on a multifaceted, user-friendly, cost-efficient digital platform with services for both – business and the citizens, thus assuring transparency, rule of law and progress of this nation.

Healthcare Committee led by Kostas Papagiannis and Ruslana Toncheva is focusing on two main pillars of their strategy:

  • HealthCare as an investment
  • Create proposals on how to meet future needs on HealthCare Funding & foster eHealth

They had their Committee meeting last month gathering more and more professionals to help them with expertise and resources to achieve those goals. Moreover, yesterday we supported the joint AmCham EU position on the new EU Pharma Strategy.

In addition here – our friends from the U.S. Embassy signed a letter for cooperation with the Ministry of Health a couple of weeks ago. We see it as an important tool for improving the healthcare system of Bulgaria by providing quality medicine, improving the quality of life of people, and – which is our strength as a Chamber – to foster the development of e-health. This last item should be a common goal for three of our committees – Healthcare, Digital, and E-Governance.

Tax Committee, led by Milen Raykov, EY, helped with three position papers of AmCham:

  • on the 60/40 Rule;
  • on VAT Amendments, and  
  • on Corporate Income Tax.

PR, Communications, and CSR Working Group – still maintains the role of a network within the network and has been providing regular updates to its 600+ members.

FinTech Working Group – after their busiest period in H2 2019, they are looking forward to their new goals in 2020. This is an important sub-community of the Chamber that should be developed further.

International Cooperation

First, let me focus on our “International” experience in Bulgaria. It is not a joke. Since mid-April, we are part of the group of Bilateral Chambers in Bulgaria. After we joined, we turned out to be one of the most valuable partners there. Probably all of the bilateral chambers take part in this group, with few exceptions – but the major ones are there.

The Bilateral chambers cooperation includes:

  • Joint proposal for additional economic measures in April,
  • Working on the promotion of Bulgaria as a nearshoring destination together with the Invest Bulgaria Agency. On July 30th we will have our first webinar with those colleagues and some media, which will be followed in the fall with a broader one to which you will be invited.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce – we continue our excellent relations with the colleagues at D.C. They provide us with useful documents and information.

AmChams in EuropeWe won the hosting of ACE 2020 Best Practice Conference. It was initially scheduled for October, but due to the current situation, it is highly likely to be rescheduled for 2021. We are active in the Communication Working Group there and we are trying to structure how the AmChams can benefit or contribute to the 3 Seas Initiative.

AmCham EU – probably our most strategic counterpart in ACE community. Their CEO Susan Danger was elected Chair of ACE for 2020 and she took part in two of the webinars we had with EU representatives – Commissioner Mariya Gabriel and Eva Maydell, MEP. They helped us in reaching out to two of the commissioners regarding protectionists measures introduced by the Bulgarian Government.

Regional AmChams – maintaining excellent dialog via the AmChams in Europe network or directly. Namely:

  • AmCham Greece, Romania – working on a joint webinar on COVID-19 Recovery strategies.
  • AmCham Czech Republic – 3 Seas Initiative
  • AmCham Israel – our CEO took part in their Israel – U.S. Business Summit in February 2020
  • AmCham Montenegro – invited us to Digital Health Conference, September 2020

Communication

Active work with media by promoting AmCham as a source of information of the Transatlantic Relations and as an organization with influential members

Developing our own media platform – website, bulletin, and social media channels:

  • Social Media: follow our LinkedIn and Twitter profiles to stay in touch with us. It is worth it.
  • YouTube we try to revive our channel with some content from our webinars
  • Website is turning to a major source of information from our members and the Chamber.
  • E-Bulletinall relevant information from the American community (Amcham, Embassy, academia, business, other AmChams, and USCC) in one place on a weekly basis.

H2 2020 Plan

So, Dear Members,

It was a dynamic half year with no clear sign or prediction of how it will end. We had to change our 2020 plans. But the few events that remain are important to happen. Of course, we will follow all government regulations and global recommendations with regard to the epidemic situation and will take every precaution to guarantee safe and risk-free events.

Our 25th Anniversary – this is an event that we think we cannot reschedule for now. There are some uncertainties, and we are still looking forward to having you all to celebrate our success this fall.

I take the opportunity to thank those companies and their leaderships that have already contributed to make it happen. We appreciate your support in those difficult times for all of us. In terms of content: on September 29th we will have a business conference followed by a standing reception. This format is achievable so far and shall make all necessary measures to adapt to reschedule if needed.

We continue with our eternal goal of promoting and fighting for the rule of law. Continuing our dialog with the German Chamber, soon we will launch a questionnaire on the business environment. Thus, we will need again your feedback. Also, after the summer break, we aim having a webinar with Jessica Kim – the Resident Legal Advisor, Bulgaria, and Romania at the U.S. Embassy.

Conclusion

Dear all,

I can frankly say that it was a busy first half of the year. Once again, I would like to thank each and every one of you that contributed or are still contributing with time, money, knowledge, or advice for the progress of the Chamber.