Ambassador Gidwitz Remarks at University of Chicago Alumni in Belgium Dinner

University of Chicago Booth School of Business Alumni in Belgium Economic Outlook Dinner, March 27, 2019.

University of Chicago Alumni in Belgium
Economic Outlook Dinner
March 27, 2019

H.E. Ronald J. Gidwitz, U.S. Ambassador to Belgium

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, good evening.

Let me begin by thanking our host for the kind introduction, and for the opportunity to meet all of you tonight.

I’ll join my fellow speakers with an eye toward the trends that will shape the global economy in the year ahead. Let me begin by sharing with you how we at the U.S. Embassy invest in future leaders, and I’ll then discuss larger foreign policy and trade issues that are at the forefront of our relationship with Belgium and Europe.

Enhance Mutual Understanding and Promote Inclusiveness

Our relationship with Belgium is based on a broad and deep partnership that has endured for more than 185 years. Like any important relationship, we work hard every day to reinforce our existing ties and to expand into areas where we have mutual interests. Our outlook is very much forward-thinking.

Our embassy has developed a remarkable range of exchanges and grants programs that inform professionals to work to create a more cooperative society for all. Much of our work is devoted to empowering Belgian youth, the next generation, and encouraging initiatives that lead to more inclusiveness. Last week, I met with some Belgians who are at the top of their respective industries – and who are also Fulbright alumni – and thus products of our oldest and most renowned exchange programs. This year alone, we’re organizing exchanges for Belgians to travel to the United States for an in-depth look at issues such as our investment screening process, data privacy protections at the federal and state levels, energy regulation and capacity market mechanisms, entrepreneurship, investigative journalism, and much more.

Another way that we are looking to the future is by inviting young business leaders from all around the world to join us at the annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit. This year’s event will take place in The Hague and is jointly hosted by the U.S. State Department and the Government of the Netherlands. 2,000 entrepreneurs, investors, and policy leaders will come together to network and turn challenges into business opportunities. This year’s summit will focus on global opportunities for the next wave of entrepreneur-led innovation in scalable tech, from artificial intelligence and robotics to blockchain, big data, new science and more.

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 the decades to come.

Business Ties and Foreign Policy Priorities

The enduring partnership between the U.S. and Belgium is about two countries closely linked by their shared values and experiences. It’s also about trading and investing in each other, which further binds our futures together. In 2017, total trade between our two countries stood at around $55 billion. Our healthy trade and investment relationship provides a strong foundation for the many ways we work together in the global arena. The U.S. is the top investor in Belgium, and Belgium is the 10 th largest investor in the United States. Earlier today, I hosted a seminar for the business community to learn about why the United States is a great market for business investment and expansion. This June, the U.S. Department of Commerce will host the SelectUSA Investment Summit in Washington DC. Our embassy, and others around the world, work to identify qualified companies to invite to the event, where they will hear from senior government officials, network with other executives, and connect with U.S. economic development organizations to facilitate business investment and job creation. We look forward to developing new partnerships with Belgian investors at this event and throughout the year.

Today, we face a new era of great-power competition, which brings opportunities and challenges. In order to preserve our partnership in this complex world, the U.S. and Belgium, along with other key partners, are working together to counter common threats. We are confronted with a belligerent Iran, and great power competition with an expansionist Russia and an economically aggressive China.

I’d like to take a few moments to talk about China. Many of you may have visited recently, or have business interests there. I think we can agree that the rapid growth in China is something remarkable, one for the history books.

As China has transformed its economy, the world has had to adjust at an equally rapid pace. However, in some areas we must remain steadfast: we must remain committed to free, fair, and reciprocal trade and trade liberalization around the world. The WTO, for example, is not equipped to handle the fundamental challenge posed by China, which continues to embrace a state-led, mercantilist approach to the economy and to trade that is incompatible with the open, market-based principles of this organization and its agreements. China’s vision for the future includes market-distorting policies and practices, like propping up its state-owned enterprises while simultaneously restricting, taking advantage of, discriminating against, or otherwise creating disadvantages for the goods and services of American and European companies alike. Through its economic policies, China seeks to dominate key, sensitive industries like communications, AI, defense, and aviation by 2025—not through fair competition and a level playing field, but through forced technology transfers and the theft of American
and European intellectual property. We cannot accept a world where China picks the winners and losers—neither in business nor security. We must continue to work together to find a multilateral solution to this challenge.

Here in Brussels, Chinese telecom company Huawei opened a “transparency center” just a few blocks from the U.S. Embassy. While the company would like to boast about transparency, China’s cybersecurity laws actually compel Huawei to be less transparent, force it to share data with the government on demand, violating privacy and creating grave security concerns that should raise alarm bells for industries and governments the world over.

These issues are part and parcel of China’s trajectory – and the United States is committed to finding solutions with our allies that promote free and fair trade and competitive systems. The EU Joint Communication on China, issued on March 12, suggests the measures and legislation needed to address economic distortions caused by unfair subsidization and state-owned enterprises. It further called on the need to develop concrete tools to promote transparency and fair practices. We believe we must work together—and through the multilateral organizations that we ourselves developed and championed—to find workable solutions to address these trade challenges.

Our two countries are working together on new threats like cybersecurity, and how we can partner to strengthen the security of our important technologies, critical infrastructure, and telecoms. In an age of Russian aggression, Moscow has forcefully redrawn borders in Eastern Europe. It has intimidated and attacked neighbors, launched disinformation and cyber campaigns against the West and engaged in military buildups on its western frontiers. With the support of allies like Belgium, we are leading the way in systematically strengthening our tools to counter Russian cyber threats, active measures, and disinformation campaigns. In fact, earlier this month, my fellow U.S. ambassadors and I helped kick off “DisInfoWeek” in Brussels — a week of expert briefings from the United States and around the world, open to the public, to discuss the threat of disinformation, malign election interference, and cybersecurity issues that threaten the foundation of our democratic societies.

Conclusion

These are not threats we can counter alone. Only through cooperation with our allies can we succeed. We must be clear that we stand for strong democracy as the foundation of our security and prosperity. There is nothing more valuable to our long-term economic prosperity than the bonds of shared history, culture, commerce and security between the United States and the countries of Europe. Let us work
together to preserve that.

Thank you, and I look forward to answering your questions following the panel session.