The American Chamber of Commerce in Hungary (AmCham), established in 1989, aims “to be the leading representative for US and international business in Hungary, and to promote the global competitiveness of the country”. Its current President, elected in December 2010, is István Havas, Country Managing Partner at Ernst & Young Hungary. For its United States supplement,Diplomacy and Trade asked him about his objectives and how he plans to meet them.
István Havas “My goal as President is to focus AmCham’s advocacy potential on restarting the dialogue between government and the business communities. In the past ten months we made progress through our Committee network and also as Secretariat and member of the Investors’ Council in topics such as taxation, the new labor code or reducing administrative burdens, or issues related to the energy and the electronic manufacturing industry,” the President says. He believes AmCham, the largest in Central and Eastern Europe, also passed a milestone after signing the Strategic Cooperation Agreement with the Ministry of Public Administration and Justice in late February, 2011. “This agreement provides a framework for our Chamber to work closely together with the Ministry and directly consult about legislation to ensure new regulations enhance investor trust and also Hungary's competitiveness,” he adds.
Competitiveness, accountability and sustainability
AmCham is dedicated to represent U.S. business values in Hungary. “Values, such as transparency, good corporate governance, business ethics and integrity, diversity or corporate responsibility are all factors of competitiveness, and important topics for AmCham as such,” Havas points out. “We have dedicated events, committees and working groups finding the best ways to disseminate such values in the Hungarian society. For example, our Corporate Governance and Business Integrity Committee has been working since 2003 to improve the governance and ethics of private, non-profit and public-sector practices in order to contribute to competitiveness, accountability and sustainability in Hungary.” They target several stakeholders with a primary focus on education and sharing best practices. Their projects include annual Workshops for professors, volunteer programs, grant programs and their latest products, a new Facebook page (’A jovo vezetoi’) and the second edition of the Corporate Governance Glossary.
AmCham in Hungary has 450 members from 23 countries, representing international and Hungarian investments, so, the AmCham Board hears the voice of not only Americans, but Germans, Dutch, Hungarians and so on. “Our aim is to make the country more competitive and more investor-friendly, so we do get complaints from them time to time, but as we have our committee network, the infrastructure to channel these ’complaints’ to the government or other stakeholders, our member companies have learned how to present such issues in a proactive and constructive manner. Also, we strive to represent sector-wide or broader investment interests, never lobbying for one single member company,” the President states.
Needing a more predictable regulatory framework
One of AmCham’s aims is to contribute to the competitiveness of the Hungarian economy. Istvan Havas says “competitiveness is hard to define, as it is affected by so many different factors in all levels of society and the economy. All of our activities are governed by the mission statement of AmCham (to be the leading representative for US and international business in Hungary, and to promote the global competitiveness of the country), however, we strive to identify key areas where it is crucial to enhance the country’s competitiveness.” AmCham currently focuses on creating a fairer and more solid tax system, a more predictable regulatory framework and increased transparency, to attract research and development (R&D) and innovation to the country and to strengthen the labor market by enhancing vocational education and language skills.
One of the means by AmCham to achieve its goals is communication with decision-makers in government. Coordinated by its numerous committees, and overseen by the AmCham Board of Governors, over the years, AmCham Hungary has advocated for a range of issues including corporate tax, advertising legislation, logistics, education and corporate governance. With each project, AmCham aims to voice the opinions of the entire membership and provide the Hungarian Government with recommendations that will enhance Hungary's national competitiveness. “As mentioned before, we now have a Strategic Agreement with the Ministry of Public Administration and Justice, a direct link to decision makers. We also have other tools, such as membership in external forums (Investors’ Council, Employers’ Forum for a New Labor Code), commenting on draft bills, legislations of the government or publishing so-called Position Briefs (published nine to date) and short statements. We also organize personal meetings with Ministers or state secretaries on specific topics with our company experts and Committee chairs. Also, most of our professional events, such as annual conferences on taxation, diversity or marketing regulation or our monthly Business Forums aim to provide a channel to decision makers and aim to become a platform for constructive dialogue between the business and the government,” the President concludes.