Ambassador Gidwitz Keynote Remarks
AmCham Belgium Gala, June 13, 2019
AmCham President Howard Liebman; Chief Executive Marcel Claes; distinguished guests; ladies and gentlemen. Good evening. Thank you, Howard, for the kind introduction, and for the opportunity to be with all of you tonight.
Since my arrival in Brussels nearly one year ago, it’s been my pleasure to engage often with AmCham Belgium, its member companies, and its leadership. I’d like to thank the AmCham team for your excellent work to promote the interests of U.S. companies in Belgium. Your efforts have been vital to their continued success.
Promoting economic growth is one of my top priorities as Ambassador. Fortunately, business between the U.S. and Belgium has never been better. The U.S. Department of Commerce released updated export and investment numbers indicating that Belgium is the 12 th largest foreign investor in the U.S., supporting more than 145,000 jobs. Since President Trump was elected, the U.S. has added 5.8 million new jobs, including almost half a million in the manufacturing sector. Our unemployment rate of four percent for 2018 is close to a record low, and GDP growth is up. We just celebrated 10 straight years of economic expansion in the U.S. All of this speaks to the underlying strength of our economy, which has proven resilient through the ups and downs of the last decade. I mention the strength of the U.S. economy because our economic success in the United States means opportunities for Belgian companies as well.
The AmCham builds on this strong partnership by actively engaging with the Belgian government and serving as the voice of the international business community. I commend you for your leadership in focusing on the priorities outlined in your strategic plan for this year: the labor market, taxation, governance, and infrastructure.
During my first year as Ambassador, I’ve traveled throughout Belgium and visited some of the many Belgian and American firms doing business between our two countries – several of whom are AmCham members. Last month, I was in Liège, where I visited FedEx and had the opportunity to learn about their expanding air and ground logistics operations. I learned that TNT, which was acquired by FedEx in 2016, is one of the largest employers in Liege with 1,800 employees, and that FedEx has 1,000 employees across Belgium. Just this week I was in Antwerp province to tour the Estée Lauder manufacturing site, which employs about 900 workers and was first established in the 1960s. I was also recently in Mechelen and met the leadership at Biocartis, a growing Belgian biotechnology company with North American headquarters in New Jersey. These job numbers and investments are testament to the longstanding business partnerships that exist between Belgium and the U.S.
Many of you are familiar with our Select USA investment summit, which just wrapped up yesterday in Washington. I’m pleased that several Belgian firms participated this year. At the end of this month, I’ll be visiting those companies to find out how else we can support them.
The Embassy is also actively involved in promoting global opportunities for the next generation of business leaders. The first week of June, the State Department partnered with the Government of the Netherlands to host the 9th annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit, or GES, in The Hague. Two thousand entrepreneurs, investors, and policy leaders came together to network and turn challenges into business opportunities. This year’s summit focused on the next wave of entrepreneur-led innovation in scalable tech — from artificial intelligence and robotics to blockchain, big data, new science, and more. Entrepreneurs from around the world, including from Belgium, participated in sessions on health policy and innovation, the future of agri-business, and advanced manufacturing.
Prior to the summit, our embassy worked with our Dutch colleagues in Brussels to host a “Road to the GES” event featuring an afternoon of workshops, followed by a reception that brought together a group of Belgian entrepreneurs and officials.
By investing in the younger generation, and creating long-lasting linkages between Belgians, Europeans, and Americans, we are ensuring that our already strong trade and business ties will endure for decades to come.
The deep-rooted friendship between the U.S. and Belgium, typified by not only our trade and investment ties, but also through academic, cultural, sports, and scientific exchanges, has developed over the years out of a resolve to deepen understanding and foster friendship among people of different backgrounds. At the same time, we work together to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom so many years ago.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the most pivotal moments of the Second World War. On June 6th, we recognized the anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of Europe at the beaches of Normandy and the largest invasion force in history. I was honored to attend the ceremony at the Normandy American Cemetery, where President Trump emphasized the continuing importance of the relationship with our allies when he said: “To all of our friends and partners — our cherished alliance was forged in the heat of battle, tested in the trials of war and proven in the blessings of peace…Our bond is unbreakable.”
In December, officials from the United States and Belgium will come together in Bastogne to pay our respects to the soldiers who courageously fought in the Battle of the Bulge. I have been leading the U.S. Embassy’s effort to partner with the American Battle Monuments Commission, the Belgian government, and non-profit organizations to raise funds to restore a war monument near Bastogne called the Mardasson Memorial. This star-shaped structure was constructed and funded by the Belgians and is the only memorial that commemorates all of the American forces that fought in the Battle of the Bulge. It is only fitting that in this important anniversary year, we honor those who served and sacrificed by working to not only restore the monument, but to ensure it is well-cared for in the decades to come.
Our work to remember and honor these shared sacrifices of the last century is taking place in an era of renewed great power competition, where we face global threats that require our continued collaboration.
The United States is committed to using diplomacy, development, and defense to protect our national security interests. Belgium, as an equal partner and ally in our collective security, must share the burden by fulfilling its commitment to help us prevent and deter all threats to our community of democracies.
The shared prosperity we enjoy is directly tied to our security. We continue to work together for a Europe and a United States that remains free and at peace for decades to come.
I thank the AmCham, its leadership, and its members for contributing to the solid partnership between our two countries.
Thank you, and enjoy the evening.