Remarks by Chargé d’Affaires Matthew R. Lussenhop
AmCham Belgium and American Club of Brussels Holiday Gala
December 13, 2017
President of the American Chamber of Commerce in Belgium, Mr. Howard Liebman; President of the American Club of Brussels, Mr. Peter Forrest, distinguished guests; ladies and gentlemen. Good evening.
It is my distinct honor and pleasure to speak to you tonight on the occasion of this special event for the U.S.-Belgian business community. The holiday season starts in the United States with Thanksgiving and continues with many celebrations into the New Year – we give thanks, we spend time with family and friends, and we make resolutions for the future. I certainly am thankful that I can spend this evening with friends I have made in my short time in Brussels, and I hope to reflect on some of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
Shared Accomplishments — History
I have worked in nine countries, on four continents, over my 27-year career. I can tell you that Belgium is one of very few countries that shares such a close and common history with the United States.
Our connection to this country runs deep, and spans 185 years. The treaty that ended the 1812 war between the United States and the United Kingdom was signed in Ghent. These days, we are marking the centenary of the entry of the United States into World War I. This period of history was enormously important to the development of the United States as a global power. The first great international humanitarian assistance campaign – the Committee for Relief in Belgium – began as the brainchild of American expatriate business leaders, among them Herbert Hoover (salute to American Club for the Hoover Gala this fall to commemorate the man and the movement). By this time a century ago, hundreds of thousands of American doughboys were assembling in Europe – beginning one hundred years of shared military and security cooperation.
From those dark days, and the dark days of World War II, the partnership between the United States and Belgium flourished. Our partnership spans military, security, political and diplomatic realms, and our trade and investment ties remain dynamic and enduring.
Whether you have arrived recently from the United States or are fortunate enough to have been in Belgium for some time, you already know that American companies have been working here, investing in this country, and contributing to the Belgian economy for many, many years. This is a fact that I repeat to every visitor from the United States who passes through the Embassy: the United States and Belgium are connected through deep, long-term investments. Just this year, we celebrated together Pfizer’s 65th anniversary in Belgium, Duracell’s 50th anniversary, United’s 20th year of direct service to Washington, DC, and several others.
I would like to raise my glass to all of you in this room for representing our shared ties and common history in commerce.
U.S. Priorities in Belgium
The most important responsibility of the U.S. Embassy in Brussels – and of any U.S. Embassy across the globe – is the safety and security of American citizens and our allies. We do this on a daily basis at the personal level – for example, helping Americans who have lost their passports or are in medical or legal trouble.
This responsibility extends more broadly to include our alliances and security partnerships. Here in Brussels, three main challenges face the U.S., Belgium and our allies and partners: the ever-present threat of terrorism; the destabilizing impact of Russian aggression and adventurism; and the interconnected nature of new and hybrid threats.
Terrorism – No one here needs to be reminded of the stark menace of terrorism – Brussels suffered a terrible attack in March 2016, and the list of other cities that have suffered attacks since then is far too long. With the fall of the physical caliphate of the Islamic State, we will likely see the threat shift to different trends and tactics. The good news is our intense and positive collaboration in fighting terrorism. Belgium contributed its F-16s at a critical time in the fight against ISIS, and our law enforcement cooperation is without precedent. FBI agents have worked side-by- side with Belgian police to dismantle networks and prevent attack – FBI Director Wray visited here last month – a stop on his first trip overseas. I expect our cooperation in this area will continue to produce positive results for citizens of the U.S. and Europe.
Russia – The United States and Europe stand shoulder-to- shoulder in confronting Russian aggression through sanctions and deterrence. Our transatlantic unity is meant to convey to the Russian government that we will not stand for flagrant violations of international norms – chief among them the continuing occupation of Crimea and fomenting of violence in eastern Ukraine. Again, Belgium is playing a key role – participating in NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence and flying in the Baltic Air Police mission in Estonia. We hope that Russia will take steps to restore Ukraine’s full sovereignty and territorial integrity, allowing us to begin the process of restoring normal relations.
Hybrid threats – Emerging threats require that we continue to work closely bilaterally, and with the nations of the Europe Union. We must address malicious Russian tactics to drive us apart, weaken our confidence, and undermine the political and economic successes we have achieved together since the end of the Cold War. Countering transnational threats like organized crime, illicit trafficking, terrorism and cyber-crime will require strong partnerships like the one we have with Belgium.
As we face these threats, the U.S. and Belgium know that development and assistance will be critical in preventing future crises. Our work in Syria and Iraq is well known, but we are engaged as partners in other regions as well. Belgium is strongly engaged in Mali and the Sahel region, while the United States recently committed $60 million to assist the G-5 Sahel Joint Force to combat terrorism.
A key element of our security partnership with Belgium is our longstanding air partnership with Belgium. This transatlantic approach in the air domain has been an ideal complement to Belgium’s other defense relationships. The U.S. has operated the highest technology front-line aircraft side-by- side with Belgium since the beginning of the Cold War. The first Belgians to join the jet age and break the sound barrier did so in American F-84 Thunderjets in 1955. Belgians built the F-84 successor, when SABCA was a Lockheed contractor for the highly successful F-104. During the past four decades, the Belgian Air Force has operated alongside U.S., NATO, and coalition forces with its current F-16 fleet, making significant contributions from Iraq and Afghanistan to NATO Baltic Air Policing Operations. Our modern transatlantic defense partnership has been defined by the F-16 program, and we sincerely hope this partnership continues for many decades to come.
Now, as Belgium undertakes a serious review of the bids to replace its critically important F-16 fleet, I’d like to say a few words about the F-35, since the competition has been in the news lately. One of the key elements of this competition is the impact of Belgium’s choice for its next aircraft on Belgium-based industry. Belgium’s strong aerospace sector – which gained widespread recognition of its world-class aerospace industry through Belgium’s participation in the F-16 development program – will likely be very competitive for contracts to sustain and support the F-35. We are already seeing signs of these economic benefits, with the recent ASCO announcement that it will become part of the F-35’s global supply chain. There are more than 3,000 orders for the F-35 on the books globally, with 700 of those on the continent of Europe. This makes the F-35 a truly European aircraft. And with more orders on the way, the F-35 is becoming cheaper as the production line becomes more efficient.
We look forward to Belgium undertaking a serious review and using this procurement process as the method to determine the best fighter jet to maintain its 21 st century readiness.
Investment and Trade
Turning from security, to our economic partnership, and I am happy to see such strong and dynamic trade and investment ties between Belgium and the United States. These ties have grown and developed over many years and, indeed, decades. In 2018, we can make them even stronger.
Total Belgian investment in the U.S. has increased more than 50 percent over the last few years, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, from $28 billion in 2011 to $43 billion in 2015. Belgium ranks 13th among foreign investors in the U.S., at a level almost twice as high as Brazil or China, and similar to Australia, Korea and Mexico. About 300 Belgian companies have a presence in the U.S. market, supporting about 160,000 jobs in the U.S in a wide range of industries, from petrochemicals to quality food and textiles, from luxury buses and steel products to pharmaceuticals and complex software products.
Belgium is one of the global leaders in nano-electronics and digital technologies. Take IMEC, as an example. What started as a modest University of Leuven offshoot is now an international leader and R&D innovation hub, with 3,500 researchers from 75 countries. Many people in Silicon Valley work with IMEC on a daily basis. It is seen as the gold standard in nano-technology, and is representative of the growing importance of Belgium to the global high-tech economy.
Successful commercial diplomacy relies on partnerships, and I am proud that the U.S. Embassy and the American Chamber of Commerce work so well together. I would like to congratulate AmCham on its recent Priorities for a Prosperous Belgium report, “Embracing Transformation”. The topics highlighted in this report are distinct challenges for any country and certainly worthy of the attention of Belgium’s political leaders: Country Governance, the Labor Market, Corporate Taxation, and Mobility are important issues and we look forward to partnering with AmCham to support enduring solutions to these challenges.
I note that in the most recent World Bank Ease of Doing Business report, Belgium has dropped several places. So, while we know that Belgium is making progress toward important reforms, including its tax regime, for example, its reform agenda is needs to keep pace with other countries in Europe. Elsewhere, governments are moving faster toward a business-friendly environment. Given AmCham’s role as a ‘thought leader’ in Belgium, this report and your influence within Belgian society means that you CAN make a difference, and we look forward to working with you to address these issues. AmCham’s expertise and insights will be especially important as Belgium and Europe cope with the impact of Brexit.
American companies set the global standard for community involvement and social responsibility. As employers of more than 140,000 Belgians, your CSR activities have a direct impact on Belgian lives and society.
I would also like to thank The American Club, an international club with an American heart, for their excellent work serving the American expatriate community in Brussels for years. You have been especially active in keeping the memory alive of the connections between Belgium and the United States, especially our shared sacrifices during World War 1 and 2.
I recommend reading Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent speech on U.S.- European relations which outlined some of the key challenges which face the Trans-Atlantic partnership. He also visited Belgium shortly afterwards, and had a long meeting with Prime Minister Michel, as well as counterparts at the European Union and NATO. This administration has been serious about the Trans-Atlantic partnership – President Trump, Vice President Pence, Defense Secretary Mattis, have all visited Brussels in this first year of the administration. This commitment to a shared policy agenda will continue to be a subject of discussion with AmChams and U.S. businesses in Belgium and around the continent. Our goal remains a Europe whole, free and at peace – and prosperous.
With all of our shared and individual accomplishments, and all our best planning, we have to remember that the only constant is change. We live in a complex world, where threats – as well as opportunities – are constantly emerging. I continue to believe that our shared history and enduring partnership across many areas will be essential for the future of both of our nations. Thank you, and I wish each of you health and success in 2018.