dt

US-Hungarian Relations on the Mend - Diplomacy&Trade interview with President Bársony

American Chamber Makes Recommmendations "for a More Compettiive Hungary"

Improving bilateral relations are a strong foundation for further rejuvenating U.S. and Hungarian ties, Dr. Farkas Bársony, President of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hungary and CEO of Kondor Holding says. AmCham, which celebrates its 30th anniversary in November, is in talks with the government on the competitiveness-bolstering package the Chamber has put forward to decision makers.

It is yet too early to gauge thcomprehensive impact of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s official visit this May to the White House on the course of bilateral relations, President Bársony explains to Diplomacy&Trade. “We have experienced steady improvement in the relationship in recent years and the numbers support that, too. The two countries seem to be close on policies in many areas and the President and the Prime Minister are on good terms, sharing the same values, which will surely move the needle, but to be fair, it is too soon to feel the effects of the meeting, yet.”

AmCham, with 350 member companies hailing from a wide range of sectors and nations, is a community that represents U.S. business values. The organization has always been a melting pot of ideas, knowledge and values.

“It is incredible how much we can learn from each other here and naturally, members inspire and influence each other. One of the reasons why our organization was founded was to develop international business conduct and to promote values such as partnership, transparency, free enterprise, competitiveness and integrity. We at AmCham believe in leading by example so we represent these values everywhere we go."

For a more competitive Hungary

AmCham has been putting forward recommendations to the Hungarian government since 2016. The organization submitted its latest ‘package’ entitled ‘Cooperation for a more competitive Hungary 2019’ a couple of months ago.

“We are currently in the process of discussing the recommendations and gathering feedback from our partners. The chamber’s leadership held exclusive meetings with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó and Minister of Finance Mihály Varga, and we signed a strategic agreement with the Minister of Justice, Dr. László Trócsányi. Besides, we are in regular contact with the state secretaries from the Ministry of Innovation and Technology, the Ministry of Human Capacities and the Ministry of Justice,” Bársony explains.

He highlights that AmCham members pull a significant economic weight, making the organization a strong advocacy group whose voice matters, “but we know it takes time for the proposals to gain the required support. We must be patient and unwavering in our efforts to accomplish the goals we set in the interest of the country and the businesses operating here. Since the first package in 2016, several policy measures introduced by the government bear the imprint of the Chamber. The organization has been an avid facilitator of the ‘Invented in Hungary’ paradigm shift to support the local innovation ecosystem.

“We believe that moving towards high added value activities could boost the economy – the revised R&D incentive system is a step in the right direction. Our biggest policy win to date, however, was the introduction of the 9% corporate income tax. It was the collective effort of many organizations to deliver this.”

Recommendations and challenges

As regards the channels at AmCham’s disposal to communicate with decision-makers in the government, the President points out that they have established a great working relationship with policy-makers based on a constructive approach. “AmCham is considered a reliable partner that provides solutions and the government relies on our input. Five years ago, AmCham introduced a new way of working, an annual cycle of consultations with our strategic partners and restructured our advocacy groups. We have minister and state secretary level meetings; we work with designated contact personnel throughout the year to address our recommendations and other challenges.”

The chamber also organizes flagship events such as the ‘Business Meets Government Summit’, the ‘Digitalization Conference’, and the ‘Competitive Education Conference’ to provide a platform for AmCham members, experts, partners and the decision-makers to discuss the most pressing issues. “It is also important for us to present new industries, initiatives and the latest development to our government partners to share knowledge,” he adds.

Commitments

He also stresses that AmCham has made headway with various initiatives in education, like the prioritization of the development of key competencies and skills in the national curriculum, and placing more focus on career orientation in public education and vocational training.

“We do not just make recommendations; we make commitments, too. Our working groups explored the options where the AmCham community can help the next generation directly. After consultations with all involved parties, we launched the Career Orientation Program this past November, a platform where companies and secondary schools can organize career orientation visits to inspire and inform the students about the skill requirements, labor market trends and career opportunities in Hungary. 220 volunteers, the so-called Career Ambassadors from 110 companies and 104 schools have signed up to date.”

Efficiency and digitalization

Bársony was elected President of AmCham Hungary in December 2016. As to his goals as President, he points out that “efficiency was the key word for me. I wanted AmCham to have stronger ties with our government partners, a streamlined
advocacy cycle for better representation and to establish a more dynamic, more productive working relationship among our working groups. I believe we achieved this. Furthermore, I wanted to focus more on the digital economy. AmCham realized that we needed to get more involved in this area because it offers a potential competitive edge; therefore, we set up a Digitalization Policy Task Force, we host an annual conference and have become one of the founders of the AI Coalition.”

Three Seas Initiative

As President of the Hungarian AmCham, Bársony was one of the signatories to the Three Seas Initiative in the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana, this June. He highlights that the Three Seas Initiative was launched to strengthen cooperation among the 12 countries located in the region bordered by the Adriatic, Baltic and Black Seas, to bridge the East – West economic gap and promote unity and cohesion in the EU. The affected countries include Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and of course, Hungary.

“It is a high-level, multi-stakeholder commitment to stimulate economic growth and thereby increase the stability and the prosperity of the region. Three priority areas were highlighted where the members aim to contribute: infrastructure, energy and digitalization. The governments involved dedicate significant resources for development projects in this region. The chambers believe this initiative is beneficial for their member companies as well and as we are involved in cross-country projects every day, we can add value and know-how to this platform,” he says.

THE AMCHAM FOUNDATION

Since its inception 30 years ago, the AmCham Foundation has worked to promote the culture of volunteerism and corporate social responsibility in Hungary. The organization works with AmCham members to support children in need of social, psychological or physical support and helps various schools, homes and institutions. In 2017, the foundation launched the ‘Code Theater’ program to promote safe Internet use and teach children how to defend themselves against online bullying, harassment and negative comments.

AmCham Hungary President Dr. Farkas Bársony explains that “every year, around Thanksgiving, we host a charity dinner with the Budapest Marriott Hotel to support the AmCham Foundation and the SOS Children’s Villages. It is a truly magnificent and heart-warming event where our members gather to donate, participate in a raffle and a silent auction – all for a fantastic cause.”

This interview appeared in the July 2019 issue of Diplomacy&Trade.