Olivier Marquette, AmCham Bulgaria President, Full Opening Remarks at the Business Meeting with the U.S. Ambassador to Bulgaria H.E. Herro Mustafa, December 15th, 2021.
Dear AmCham Bulgaria members,
Dear Ambassador Mustafa,
Two years have passed since we welcomed Ambassador Mustafa in Bulgaria. I remember this day in November 2019 quite well: it was your first public appearance in Bulgaria. It was a moment charged with energy, warmth, and great enthusiasm. We expected some booming continuation of the Bulgaria-America business and political relationships. Few months later, however, COVID-19 started to dominate our lives, the political agenda, it had some huge impact on the economy.
Let me take a moment and express our Board’s sincere empathy to all of you that have suffered loss due to the pandemic.
Now, I would like to thank all for joining us at today’s business meeting. A special thanks goes to Ambassador Mustafa that she kept her promise, and she is here with our members.
For those two years now, we enjoyed your support and advice, we had and still having great collaboration with the U.S. Embassy team. We did some good thing together and we are proud of them. Today, we will mention some of them.
Message to the New Government
Let me just start with our message to the New Government.
Now we are in a new political era. It is full of hope and expectations for a major change of the political and economic development of Bulgaria. Thus, on behalf the Board of Directors of AmCham, I can say that we are ready, and we are willing to partner with the new government on sector policies. We’ve got lots of mutual priorities and we have shared vision. Only together – business and government – can strive for efficiency, transparency, and anti-corruption to untap Bulgaria’s growth potential.
I’m certain that that all members support my words.
Short Overview of 2020-2021
Now, let me highlight some of our achievements so far.
You all know that for 27 years now AmCham supports the American business in Bulgaria and members with great reputation. We work together with the government to continuously improve the business climate here. If needed – we raise our voice when rule of law is violated.
Let me give you few examples. During the first lockdown in 2020 we strived to defend our members’ interests to have fair and transparent governance. We were vocal against the stoppage of the public procurement that could have caused losses of millions. We raised our voice against changes of the taxation system without any debate that brought favor to just a few. We supported all industries in their request for bank vacation and lessens the burden of the Corporate Income Tax when the economy was stopped. Also, we dealt with rapid legislative changes as well as with regulation violations joining efforts with other bilateral chambers.
Cases. We had almost a dozen of cases. Some of them were mere protectionists aiming to bring advantage to a handful of the dairy producers. In others – institutions blocked large scale investments with no legal arguments. Today we see that an environment procedure is introduced to bottleneck an innovative project of the nascent industry.
All of this and more, wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t have the knowledge and motivation of our members, as well as the joint work and support of the U.S. Embassy.
To be more effective, we for two years now we started to reorganize and to mobilize our committees so that we can rely on their shared knowledge, experience, and resources. The restructuring of our members brought better understanding of the industries that we represent. It resulted in strengthening of the existing committees and establishing new ones, such as Rule of Law and the Research, Innovation and Startup Committees.
To cut it short – today AmCham represents some of iconic and advanced American brands together with many prominent Bulgarian and Multinational companies. This is how we can be prepared and active in global transformation processes such as the EU Green Deal, the development of the Transatlantic Digital Economy, as well as to give our stake for the Bulgarian Healthcare System improvement, Human Capital, and Education Developments, to boost the innovation and startup ecosystem for growth, and many more.
Along with the advocacy efforts in favor of our members and industries, we tried to some good when needed. Our joint effort – UNITED Against COVID-19 Fund – collected and distributed in a fair and transparent way more than 1 million leva across the country.
I would like to thank to all companies and individuals who have contributed to our 2021 Thanksgiving Charity Online Auction. Our support will give hope to orphan students with excellent grades and to victims of domestic violence.
AmCham Priorities and Rule of Law
This September the AmCham Board reconfirmed our four priority areas:
- Regional and Transatlantic Advocacy.
- Sustainable Business Climate and Investments.
- Digital Economy and Innovation.
- and Human Capital Development.
On top of them we have two imperatives that are the fuel for all priorities above – these are Rule of Law and our continuous engagement with the members.
Let me share with you a proven formula of sustainable development. Only with strong membership of reputable companies we can advocate for bettering the rule of law everywhere. Only with solid and fair rule of law, we can have a just judicial system. Only with leveled playing field, we can sustain businesses and attract new investments.
We are proud that we represent businesses with long-term vision and willingness to stay here. they need only fair rules, transparency, lack of corruption, and talents. Thus, government and business must find ways to nurture the fragile competitiveness of the Bulgarian economy. We must retain our people – young and old, students and experts. We must fill the gap between the business and academia. We must make sure the institutions to work efficiently, with no bias, and respecting the laws. We must have some real digitalization across administration and industries, especially in SMEs. We must make sure that the healthcare and education are seen as investment in the future of Bulgaria.
We must start cooperating now. But how?
I can give you three examples.
Examples: Healthcare, Energy, Innovation & Startups
In June our Healthcare Committee presented “The Healthcare as an Investment” Report. Its holistic philosophy and balanced measures were well accepted by various stakeholders, including the caretaker health minister. The report has a clear strategic view on how our healthcare system can be more efficient, transparent, digitalized, how it can save lives with prevention and innovative medicine. So, we will continue to advocate for it with the new minister.
Over the past four months our Energy and Mineral Resources Committee is working on a study of the decarbonization of the Energy Industry in Bulgaria. Its data-based, non-partisan, non-biased approach will result in two large-scale scenarios. They will show how the Bulgarian energy mix could look like 2022 onwards. In our work we engaged several ministries, business associations, and stakeholders. We plan to present the study to the Prime Minister, the energy minister, and the public in January 2022.
Our third example is that we want to have our stake in the development of the innovation and startup ecosystem here. AmCham Bulgaria takes the lead in creating a network that can bridge the gap between a startup, academia, and the production line.
If we succeed with these efforts, we can be satisfied that we’ve identified some game-changing solutions that benefit the business climate of this beautiful country.
Three Seas Initiative
I am coming to the end of my speech.
It is hard not to mention probably the most prominent activity of AmCham this year. We had our contribution for the first deal of the new F-16s for Bulgaria. And we helped Bulgaria to position well at the Three Seas Business Forum this July.
Our chamber was co-organizer of the Business. We had our momentum then. We seized an opportunity too. But that’s not all. We support the Three Seas Initiative since 2018. Hosting it in Bulgaria was a chance to demonstrate our capability on a regional forum. Thus, we created the Digital Panel, modelled the Energy Panel, and we spoke publicly of the benefits that 3SI could bring to Bulgaria, and to the CEE.
Here I would like to thank our CEO – Petar Ivanov – who, unfortunately, is not with us today, for his great stamina and contribution for this enormous success for our chamber and the overall AmChams in Europe community. A big thanks to the AmCham Team too.
Now we are dreaming to have our role in the 3SI Business Forum in 2022 in Latvia too.
Before I finish, let me thank the sponsors of this event: America for Bulgaria, ContourGlobal Maritsa East 3, Dundee Precious Metals Bulgaria, Honeywell, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, operated by Selectium, and McDonalds.
Your support is valued and appreciated.
Dear Ambassador Mustafa,
On behalf of our more than 300 members I would like to thank you again for being here with us today.
Dear members, thank you for your continuous support and attention.
Madam Ambassador, the floor is yours.