April 12-15, 2015, Osijek, Croatia

Fostering the ICT Ecosystem

Ambassador Foley's Opening Remarks for the Brown Forum

Remarks by U.S. Ambassador James B. Foley

Brown Forum Opening Session

April 2, 2012

Deputy Prime Minister Cacic, Minister Pusic, Senator Begich, assembled mayors, Ambassadorial colleagues, zupans and business leaders, thank you for being here today. It is my great pleasure to again co-host the Brown Forum with our Croatian partners, and I want to thank President Josipovic and Prime Minister Milanovic for Croatia’s continued commitment to the Brown Forum. I also want to express my gratitude to the Croatian Chamber of Economy for their exceptional work co-planning and co-organizing this event with us and to the Croatian Employer’s Association and our Forum sponsors, without whom this conference would not have been possible. Finally, a special thanks to our hosts – the beautiful cities of Opatija, Rijeka, and Primorje-Kotar county.

Last year we launched the Brown Forum in Dubrovnik to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the tragedy that befell U.S. Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown and his delegation who perished while on a mission to promote the economic revival of the war-torn region of Southeast Europe. The conference proved to be an outstanding platform for bringing together government and business leaders from this region and the United States to discuss economic development and the prospects for enhanced partnerships with American businesses.

To be honest, however, it was not our intention to institutionalize the Brown Forum, and we certainly did not expect to meet again the following year. But we are here today because of insights that emerged in last year’s discussion. First, we concluded that Southeast Europe has enormous potential to develop economically and to attract investment. Second, we concluded that the region is not realizing this potential, and lags behind more competitive parts of the world.

There are specific reasons for this, having to do with the unique history of Southeast Europe. Twenty years ago, while the rest of the world was largely moving to embrace the free market, the countries of the former Yugoslavia were engulfed in a terrible war. They emerged from that conflict behind the curve of globalization, and even today, despite significant progress, their transition to a competitive economic model remains incomplete. Meanwhile, governments in the region, as in the United States and elsewhere, are too burdened by debt and deficits to be the drivers of economic growth. In all of our countries, jobs and prosperity are dependent on private investment. How to attract that investment is the theme of our conference in Opatija this year.

In particular, we decided to put our focus on decision makers at the local level. As we examined the results of the 2011 Brown Forum and the Action Plan agreed by participants, we realized that the most important decisions on economic growth and investment are made by mayors, zupans, and other local and regional leaders. And so we have invited officials at those levels from all eight countries in the region as well as from the United States to engage in a dialogue on how to grow their economies. Tonight and tomorrow, we will explore how local entities can provide support to local business and market a municipality’s resources and benefits to potential investors – how, in short, they can be competitive in the highly competitive global economy. We hope his year’s Forum will be an opportunity to share ideas, examples, case studies and best practices, and to learn from each others’ failures as well as successes. One of our speakers is United States Senator Mark Begich, who will be introduced to you shortly. He helped conceive the theme of this year’s conference, and I am grateful to him and to the other distinguished American officials who traveled all this way to share their experiences with counterparts from this region.

Let me close by emphasizing the importance the United States continues to attach to the region of Southeast Europe and our faith in, and our commitment to, its future. The Ron Brown Forum is a reflection of America’s abiding stake in this region’s political and economic success and its integration into the wider Europe and Euro-Atlantic institutions. In this regard, we look upon Croatia’s recent completion of EU negotiations as a critical milestone that underscores to the entire region that the door is open to all, provided that the hard work of building the rule of law and fighting corruption is undertaken. This is a perspective that could make Southeast Europe a new frontier for global investment if the countries of the region do what it takes to make themselves competitive. There could be no more meaningful way to honor the memory of Ron Brown and his fallen colleagues.

I am pleased to welcome you, and look forward to our discussions. Thank you.