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At this month’s Business Breakfast, the American Chamber of Commerce hosted, for the first time in his mandate, the new U.S. Ambassador to Slovenia, H.E. Brent Hartley. In his address, Mr. Hartley emphasized five key questions, which he believes the business community should be dealing with. This was followed by a relaxed interview with the executive director of AmCham Slovenia, Ms. Ajša Vodnik, where H.E. Mr.Hartley also answered several challenging questions from the audience.

AmCham Business Breakfast, March 13, 2015, Four Points by Sheraton Hotel, Ljubljana

His speech was focused on 5 basic questions:

Due to the existing moderate danger, can a real danger occur, that could threaten economic reforms?

How can we translate the interests of foreign investors’ communities into action?

What is the course of negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP)?

How can the international economic community help reinforce good economic policies in Slovenia?

How can AmCham help?

A few highlights from the conversation:

First impressions on Slovenia

»I researched and learnt about Slovenia even before coming here, so I can honestly say I was not surprised by anything. I met many people and gained a lot of new experiences. People are warm and generous. I like the country and its interesting regions. I must say that everyone in the US, to whom I talked about Slovenia, only had words of praise for the country and only emphasized the positives.”

What can we do as a country to become visible, to get on the world map?

»Unsurprisingly, Slovenia is not the most common topic of everyday conversations in the US. Nevertheless, I think that Slovenia has a good story to tell. I hope that this will further improve when Slovenia finally overcomes the recession. The US is a very open country, but energy and organization are needed to achieve results. Your ambassador to the US is doing a very good job. I am convinced that there are opportunities to attract US investors to Slovenia.

Why are investors in doubt?

»US investors wish nothing more than to work on fair grounds, with fair and equitable rules of the game. They want clear deadlines and plans, which have to be fulfilled. Often, these conditions are not found in Slovenia.”

TTIP – Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

Transatlantic cooperation between the US and EU. “I heard that a part of the public has occupied a strong position on TTIP, which is still being negotiated between the partners – the US and EU. That is why I would first of all like a more open mindset upon resuming the negotiations. It is a negotiation between friends. The EU and US are already important trading partners and enjoy a successful partnership. Now, we have a chance to break down even more barriers. Our important common goal is to give companies even better opportunities for trade, which will lead to new jobs and economic development. From a strategic point of view, it is important for the US and EU to adhere to high standards with regards to food production, labor etc. This is why Washington and Brussels are hoping to find common ground, not necessarily the same ones, and to find similar approaches, which would set the standards high. This is important for higher standards in all areas and will lead to other countries adapting to these standards.”

On communication and information about TTIP

»The US and EU agree that there is still much to be done in the area of providing information on the current focus of the talks between the partners. We are aware that it is necessary to improve the level of public information and to improve our communication with the public regarding TTIP. This will be one of my priorities.”

Security is in connectedness

»The connectedness between the US and the EU is also reflected in the form of economic prosperity and political stability. TTIP can help both the US and the EU to become more resilient to challenges that are constantly being placed before us.”

Can we still feel safe?

»In my opinion, the primary task of any country is the safety of its citizens. What we discovered in Washington, in the EU as well as with our NATO partners is that everyone will be safer and stronger if we work together. The more we cooperate, give each other advice, the more likely we are to find a common response and therefore to be safer.”

View on the situation in Ukraine

The situation in Ukraine has already been a topic of discussion that I had with Slovenian colleagues. I will not comment on the Slovenian position and views regarding Russia. As for the US views, we are extremely concerned about Russia’s violation of national laws, violation of political agreements, arrangements, in which they pledged to protect the integrity of Ukraine. Nobody wants to see a situation in which European borders are changed upon the threat of weapons. We have been closely involved in the search for solutions to the situation and on how to stop the violence. The concern over Russia is, however, not limited to Ukraine. It stretches to the Baltic region; the Russian military is exercising with aircrafts, which do not appear on radars, forcing civil aircrafts into rerouting, as an unknown object appears to be in their way. Here we have a very broad concern, certainly recognized in Washington. We will be stronger if we are in this together. As far as the Slovenian stance is concerned, I would leave the comments to my Slovenian counterparts.”

Slovenia already plays a role in the region

»Regarding Slovenia in terms of the region, it depends on what level we are talking about. Western Balkans is certainly a topic, in which Slovenia can offer a lot of expertise in trying to bring peace and stability in this region. From an economic standpoint, we will be as encouraging as we can, however, in the end it is still a question of what the business community itself can achieve.”

Tourism is an excellent opportunity for Slovenia

»From what I have seen so far in my five weeks in Slovenia, in which I visited Piran, skied on Vogel and Krvavec, watched the Golden Fox in Maribor, it seems that Slovenia has a lot to offer in the field of tourism. What I can do personally is to encourage my extended family to visit me as often as possible.”


»My wife has her own career as a lawyer. She holds a high position in the FDA and therefore has obligations she cannot leave behind. But I can say that my negotiation skills improved spectacularly when we negotiated on her job in the US and my assignments abroad. We successfully managed such a situation in the past and we have a plan on succeeding again this time.”

Priorities for the Government

»Governance is a very complex business, which makes it hard to talk about a single priority. As I mentioned in my speech, the Slovenian society itself will carry out the necessary reforms that will make Slovenia stronger. From the US point of view we would like to find a way to stimulate the private sector. The US is not famous for being ashamed to give advice. It is necessary to tackle to internal economic situation. In the end, however, it is still the decision of each nation and its government individually, depending on what they want to do and to what extent. Government priorities are clear, and we support reforms.”

The objectives and goals of your mandate

»I am currently still in the listening and learning phase. For the moment, I do not have concrete goals in my head, but rather broader plans. Maintaining a consensus on the crisis in Ukraine is certainly one of the topics, Russia’s behavior has to be a common concern. The same goes for global terrorism and ISIS, economic and trade cooperation between the US and Slovenia and searching for the same foundations on human rights and democracy. I will definitely not run out of things to be done, however, at the moment, I still need some time to get a sense of the Slovenian people and their interests.”

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The speech of the U.S. Ambassador to Slovenia is available HERE.

Take a look at the video of the AmCham Business Breakfast HERE.