Remarks by Peter Vrooman at American Chamber of Commerce Launching Event

Remarks by
Peter Vrooman,
Chargé d’Affaires a.i.,
U.S. Embassy, Addis Ababa
at American Chamber of Commerce Launching Event
Sheraton Hotel, Addis Ababa
December 6, 2016

(As prepared for delivery)

Your Excellency Mr. Fitsum Arega, Commissioner, Ethiopia Investment Commission

American Chamber of Commerce Ethiopia Board of Directors and Steering Committee members

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Good evening!

I am delighted to be with you this evening for the official membership launch of the American Chamber of Commerce Ethiopia, also known as AmCham.  This has been a long process which started two years ago our U.S. Foreign Commercial Service and Economic teams worked  together with the AmCham Steering committee, meeting every first Thursday of the month to achieve this important milestone. This was also here in this hotel actually, one of President Obama’s key objectives when he came here to Ethiopia to see AmCahm take birth in Ethiopia so we may good on his commitment and that is helping comes to full circle his historic visit.

We value the opportunity to expand and deepen the U.S.-Ethiopian trade and investment relationship. t’s mutually beneficial for U.S. and Ethiopian businesses. It will create opportunities for U.S. businesses, while at the same time improving the investment climate and strengthening the growth of the private sector which is so critical to achieving growth objectives.

We, the embassy and AmCham, will attract American companies that bring higher production quality, technology transfer, professional training, and create jobs that benefit all Ethiopians.  Similarly, U.S. companies raise the social and environmental standards and worker protections are cretical. I’ll give you example at textile industrial park in Hawassa.  There is a  U.S. company made it a priority to establish an industrial park that would incorporate international best practices for worker health and safety.  They have also spearheaded an initiative that includes a host of innovative features such as a workforce assessment center, and high environmental standards and what it has been some result on that led to zero liquid discharge system 50,000 trees in the park.  Not only do these efforts improve the quality of life for company employees and the surrounding community, they set a standard that other businesses can emulate.

While we are hopeful that the establishment of the AmCham will attract more companies committed to positive change, we do need Ethiopia’s help to make this happen.  The Government of Ethiopia can work together with the AmCham to identify policies and practices that strengthen the trade and investment climate and provide a conducive environment for the development of the private sector.  It is critical that the voice of the private sector be heard and its needs addressed so that it can help grow Ethiopia’s economy as outlined in GTPII goals.  Steady and sustainable economic growth requires a fair, predictable, and transparent business environment.  By the same token, the private sector needs a level playing field that allows fair competition with state owned enterprises.  Business visas, taxes, and customs procedures must all be efficient, predictable processes in order to attract foreign investment and sustainable trade in the future.

Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) at all levels need to be respected, not only for the sake of U.S. companies but for the sake of ALL businesses.  Trademarks and brands are a company’s assets that reflect the creativity, innovation and talent of the businesspeople that created it, and it is critical that those assets be protected for Ethiopian businesses to thrive.

In business, time is money, which means businesses need to be able to communicate in “real time.”  Having a strong attractive business climate requires consistent, reliable, communication.  Today, Internet and mobile data access are considered basic infrastructure that powers business.  They are a key requirement for all companies and also for the international financial institutions that evaluate foreign projects in Ethiopia and decide on the availability of financing.

AmChams across Africa are known for contributing to the formation of constructive commercial frameworks and helping to improve the “doing business index” in the countries where they operate, working toward streamlining the business licensing and registration procedures.  AmChams adopt “best practices” to promote accountability on land use and construction by offering technical workshops and sector specialists accessible to the government and the private sector alike. We at the embassy can contribute by bringing speakers to talk on these issues it might be mutual interest for Ethiopia and American businesses.

The very first question that most companies ask when looking at a new market whether there is an AmCham contact they can speak to.  They use the AmCham to educate themselves on the opportunities and challenges of doing business in new markets.  The work of the AmCham complements and supports that of government’s trade and investment programs, because companies meet with government agencies having better information and stronger business proposals after interfacing with the AmCham.  This results in the more efficient use of government time and businesses’ resources.

AmCham Ethiopia is made up of companies that have worked in Ethiopia and across the African continent and the world.  They can share their expertise on reducing logistical costs, which at up to 27% in Ethiopia are some of the highest in the region, and providing labor and pay studies that support equitable growth.  As key leaders of their companies they understand cash flow and forex challenges and they can engage with the government to develop strategies to balance these demands.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also highlight the important pioneering role that AmCham Ethiopia has taken-on in paving the way for other foreign chambers to register as associations with the Government of Ethiopia.  AmCham Ethiopia contributed to developing a memorandum of understanding with the Ethiopian Investment Commission that will create a platform for other associations to establish a dialogue on improving trade and investment with the GoE.  The more that private businesses are able to organize and advocate for better policies, the more opportunities Ethiopia will have to achieve its ambitions economic development goals.

AmCham Steering Committee and Board of Directors, Ato Fitsum and your valuable team, and my FCS and Economic teams, I want to thank you for all your hard work during the past two years to bring us to this important moment.  I thank you and I know that since this was a project dear to Ambassador Haslach, she would be pleased by this accomplishment.

Now the real work begins.  We can help build and even more robust, transparent and fair business climate in Ethiopia.  At the U.S. Embassy, we will continue to do our part to support the AmCham and attract quality U.S. business and companies to the region.  We are counting on the Government of Ethiopia to do its part by increasing the attractiveness of the business climate.  Let’s work together to achieve this goal, starting by taking advantage of today’s event as a great opportunity to network and to consider becoming a member of the AmCham, joining this new U.S. business community in Ethiopia.

I wish you all an enjoyable evening.