Good morning. Thank you, Nedim, for the introduction, and thank you, AmCham BiH, for organizing the first of what I hope will become a series of robust, regular, and ongoing dialogues between private sector leaders and public officials in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Dialogue between the public and private sectors is essential to accelerating the economic reform agenda and achieving economic growth. But it hasn’t always happened or functioned smoothly in BiH.
Therefore, I am grateful to Chairwoman of the Council of Ministers, Borjana Krišto for being here today. I believe that her presence shows a commitment by this new Council of Ministers and state-level government to broaden its engagement with the private sector in the pursuit of meaningful economic reforms.
Over the past 20-plus years, AmCham BiH has established itself as a serious business organization with members hailing from every corner of this country. As a fully accredited member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington and strong partner to the U.S. Embassy, AmCham BiH has robust U.S. ties, but its efforts do not just benefit American companies. AmCham BiH has a mission to help improve the overall business environment in BiH and to promote the highest standards of ethical and sustainable business practices, which benefits all businesses in BiH.
Let’s be frank about the economic challenges here. Bosnia and Herzegovina suffers from high unemployment, rampant brain drain, and low rates of growth and foreign direct investment compared to other countries in the region. But AmCham members, like those in the audience, are out there every day creating well-paying jobs; training and mentoring young people; exporting high-quality goods and services; and investing in future operations and growth. In other words, they are actively addressing key economic challenges and contributing to the economic development of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Chairwoman Krišto, I know you, personally, are serious about wanting to generate employment opportunities, keep young people in the country, and raise wages and the standard of living across BiH. A strong partnership with the member of AmCham, who are the experts in all these topics, can help your government accomplish those goals. Your goals for BiH’s economy, Chairwoman Kristo, are goals that the AmCham shares, and I know from my engagements with them over the last year, they are eager to partner with the government to help grow BiH’s economy.
Public-private dialogue is a two-way street. It only works when it is a real dialogue. It is not an avenue for public officials to dictate the terms of where businesses should create jobs or how they should invest their capital. These are not government-owned enterprises. It is also not productive if business leaders use such dialogues to register complaints about problems without offering realistic, implementable solutions to policy makers.
I commend AmCham BiH for taking its side of the bargain seriously by working to expand its policy research and advocacy program. In AmCham’s committees – which focus on specific sectors like Banking and Healthcare, or issue sets like Tax and Legal – members combine their knowledge and experiences to analyze barriers to doing business. They then develop specific recommendations and strategic plans for how to address these obstacles, draft white papers, and plan events and programs – like this one – to advance policy changes.
Partnering with the government also means going beyond advocating for legal and regulatory changes sometimes. It may mean proposing public-private partnerships, offering technological solutions, or investing in shared priorities. It means thinking creatively and, in many cases, putting in hard, often unglamorous, work into the process of change.
The United States, alongside the international community, has many programs aimed to improving the business and investment climate in BiH. These efforts benefit all private sector actors, whether affiliated with the AmCham or not.
Our Commercial Law Development Program is enhancing the rule of law in the economic sphere by training legal practitioners, promoting commercial dispute resolution, and helping equip judges with the tools they need to rule on complex commercial cases. Our Energy Policy Activity is helping BiH regulators establish an environment that enables investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency, which can help businesses in any sector reduce spending on energy. Our first Diaspora Invest Project leveraged from $1.8 million in U.S. government resources more than $33 million in private sector investment from BiH’s diaspora, which in turn, created more than 1,500 jobs in BiH. We launched the follow-on program earlier this year, which aims to leverage at least $50 million in new diaspora-led private investment, create 2,000 new jobs in diaspora-related companies, support 600 diaspora micro, small, and medium enterprises, and encourage at least 30 local communities to seek out diaspora knowledge and capital.
The private sector is critical the BiH’s economy and to citizens’ future prosperity, and all levels of government must do a better job creating more space for the private sector.
Over 500 government owned enterprises continue to crowd out private enterprise. Political patronage networks drive the growth of the country’s inefficient and bloated public sector, draining the economy and stifling investment and growth. Leaders must reform these government owned enterprises, they must de-politicize them, and where appropriate, they should restart in good faith the privatization process of public enterprises.
We recognize that it is the private sector that knows first-hand what is working and what is not. That is why I value hearing directly from AmCham members about the challenges of doing business in BiH, as I have during recent roundtables AmCham has hosted in Banja Luka and Mostar. I have heard from many of you how overlapping layers of bureaucracy and regulations, corruption, weak rule of law, and domination of government-owned enterprises can make it difficult for the private sector to compete and grow.
So today, I am pleased to be here with Chairwoman Krišto to discuss in detail some of the most pressing issues facing the private sector today – and what the Council of Ministers can do about them.
BiH must make it easier for businesses to do business. Together, all of us here today, private and public sectors alike, can help make that happen.