Good afternoon and thank you for inviting me to speak with you today. I am grateful that we can get together in person this year. I always appreciate the opportunity to engage with AmCham members who are doing so much to improve the business environment, create new jobs, and develop economic opportunities in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Before I begin, I want to recognize the work of your Secretary General, Nedim Hamzić, along with the AmCham staff, for taking AmCham to the next level. I know how work you have done to get AmCham to where it is today. I am impressed with all that AmCham has accomplished this past year for its current members and pleased to see how the organization is attracting new members from all corners of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
I was thrilled to hear from members in the Republika Srpska earlier this month as well as to hear about AmCham’s plans to increase participation and programming throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina. I also want to thank the members of the Board of Governors for their service to the organization. You have set the standard for the three new members of the Board who will be elected today.
Finally, to all members who engaged in committee work, organized AmCham events, or participated in AmCham programs… thank you. AmCham is only as strong as its members. The success of this organization is up to all of you.
AmCham has a mandate to help promote American best practices, prepare the next generation of business leaders, strengthen business ties between Bosnia and Herzegovina and the United States, and improve the business climate in this country. I want to highlight why each of these is important, and if you will allow me, to suggest how you can contribute further.
American Best Practices
First, as the representative of U.S. business, AmCham promotes American standards of transparency, accountability, and good governance in business practices. AmCham’s Business Integrity Initiative is a great example of this, and I encourage you to get involved if you are not already. In partnership with U.S. NGO, the Center for International Private Enterprise, this project is raising awareness and building capacity in the field of anti-corruption compliance among AmCham members and the broader BiH business community. AmCham members are leading the way in good governance and integrity, and you work ensures that these best practices filter down throughout your local supply chains.
AmCham members have told me that one of their top concerns about doing business in BiH is corruption. Corruption raises the costs and risks of doing business. It has a corrosive impact on the broader business climate. It deters foreign investment, stifles economic growth and development, distorts prices, and undermines the rule of law.
Political leaders continue to block passage of state and entity-level laws needed to tackle corruption. And if this does not change, it will kill BiH’s economic future. Corruption has no place in the businesses and board rooms of BiH.
Preparing the Next Generation
The ability of the private sector to grow is constrained by its ability to hire. Human capital is one of the top concerns AmCham members have shared with me. Young people are leaving BiH in record numbers, emigrating primarily to EU countries to build their careers and their futures.
In a recent survey, young people in BiH listed the gap between the quality of their education and what is required to succeed in today’s job market as one of the key problems they face. Training, networking, and mentorship programs provided by member companies and directly by the AmCham itself can help BiH’s young people to close that gap and build a future for themselves right here.
AmCham BiH’s newly launched Leader Roots program will help prepare the next generation of employees for leadership by leveraging the expertise and knowledge in this room. Currently, some 75 employees from 44 different companies are taking part. This program allows established business leaders to invest in the CEOs of the future, which is in turn an investment in BiH’s economic prosperity. I hope to get a chance to personally meet the graduates of the inaugural Leader Roots program and to hear from them how they plan to make an impact in BiH.
U.S.-BiH Business Ties
AmCham is the private sector’s link between the United States and BiH. Even as the pandemic slowed global travel to a crawl, AmCham members still needed to travel to the United States to keep business going. Early this year, the Embassy and AmCham launched the Business Visa facilitation program, which helped AmCham members schedule timely visa appointments and facilitated business travel.
This program allowed business travelers to attend trade shows, seminars, and important meetings with U.S. partners, supporting continuity of business operations even during difficult times. I hope to see even more business travel between our two countries in the future, including AmCham’s proposed business delegation to the United States. This is an opportunity for all of you to expand your transatlantic network and explore some of the latest trends in business and technology happening in the United States. Such a delegation would bring benefits to both of our economies.
Improving the Business Climate
Lastly, while I see and hear about the difficulties of doing business in BiH, you live it every day.
As you are all aware, BiH can be a tough place to do business. The lack of a single economic space and the confusing layers of regulation and bureaucracy are especially challenging for foreign investors. There has been about $250 million in Foreign Direct Investment from the United States in BiH since 1996. That is good, and we are proud of the contribution American firms make to BiH’s economy, but it could be better. The embassy is working with the international community on several issues that will improve the business and investment climate, but you are the real experts on 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 did during the round table AmCham hosted earlier this month in Banja Luka.
AmCham can and should be the preeminent voice of the private sector in BiH and a vehicle to hold government officials accountable to your concerns. It is a place where competitors sit at the same table to identify barriers to business that effect all members, and then speak with a collective voice about necessary reforms that BiH’s leaders must undertake to improve the business climate and attract additional international investment. BiH must make it easier for businesses to do business, and you all can help make that happen.
The best way to have an impact here is through AmCham’s committees. It is in these sector-specific committees that members combine their knowledge and experiences to analyze barriers to doing business, develop specific recommendations and strategic plans for how to address these obstacles, draft white papers, and plan events and programs to advance policy changes. I encourage all of you to not just join a committee, but to be an active member. Committees are a great opportunity for your companies to make meaningful change here – change that will benefit not only your companies, but all of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Once committees identify barriers to doing business, AmCham should be strategically engaging with policymakers to implement changes and reforms. This is where I hope to see AmCham grow the most in the coming year. I welcome the news that AmCham has hired a Policy and Committee Coordinator to focus on building the capacity of the organization to enact change. This is perhaps the most valuable benefit to all of you as AmCham members.
The embassy stands ready to partner with AmCham and its committees to inform government leaders about barriers to doing business and advocate for more investor-friendly policies.
In closing, I would like to reiterate my call for all members of AmCham to make the most of your participation in this organization. Engage with AmCham programs, events, and committees.
AmCham BiH needs the support of all its members to fulfill its mandate to help promote American best practices, prepare the next generation of business leaders, and improve the business climate in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I can assure you that the return on investment is well worth the price.
I can also assure you that the U.S. Embassy will continue supporting AmCham members and American investors, exporters, and brands that are contributing to economic development in both the U.S. and BiH economies.
I look forward to our collaboration in the coming year and wish AmCham and all its members continued success.