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Jun 29, 2017 - Eric Stewart

Hungary-US relations: the wave is coming

The American business community encourages President Trump and his team to re-invigorate its relationship with Europe, and we remain optimistic that they will.

“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet” –Aristotle

This week I led a delegation of 10 major American companies to Budapest. They came eager to learn how they can best contribute to Hungary's economic growth and prosperity. Our second and largest mission yet, the companies represent long-time investors in Hungary, firms seeking to bring cutting-edge technology to the country, and titans of American enterprise looking to partner with and bolster Hungarian industry. Our goal is to start and expand tangible projects that serve as the building blocks for the economic pillar of the United States and Hungary's deep bilateral relationship.

As the first major trade mission from the United States to Hungary since President Donald Trump’s inauguration, many Hungarians expressed their uncertainty about the immediate future of our cooperation. Hungarians rightly expected to feel a giant wave of change by now, given the similarity of a number of political priorities presented by the Trump Administration and the Government of Hungary. Both governments have expressed support for strong national security and stronger focus on national interests. Hungarian citizens might question why there has not been a clearer development in the U.S.-Hungarian relationship in the past six months.

And so I ask, dear Hungary, please be patient as the new Administration gets properly staffed with political appointees dedicated to President Donald J. Trump’s agenda. President Trump won his first-ever campaign with a skeleton team. He comes to office without the plethora of campaign loyalists and experts often built through years of multiple elections. Change is on the horizon, but until Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross have teams of Trump-appointed leaders, even our greatest allies around the world, like Hungary, will remain thirsty for a re-focus of our policy.

Furthermore, candidate Trump ran his campaign focused on making America great again. His Administration did not come to office with a strong mandate or agenda focused on foreign affairs or increasing global trade. It is, instead, aimed at charting a course to right-size outdated trade agreements and to level the playing field for or to the advantage of American workers.

The American business community encourages President Trump and his team to re-invigorate its relationship with Europe, and we remain optimistic that they will. We hope that the Administration will recommit to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a free-trade agreement between the United States our European allies.

Yet even this lofty objective will be approached with pragmatism. The new administration will likely focus on achieving what is realistic instead of taking a comprehensive approach of including every element of the very complex economic partnership between the USA and European Union. Europe, with a strong voice booming from Hungary, should embrace this practical approach to achieve what is easily possible versus dreaming about what could be.

Estimates clearly demonstrate that both the U.S. and Europe will benefit even with the simplest actions of lowering all tariffs to zero. If both governments can act swiftly and boldly, we could not only create significant economic gains for American and European workers; we will also be able to signal to the rest of the world the powerful friendship and commitment that exists between the United States and Europe.

While we patiently await a return to deeper political and diplomatic engagements between our great nations and the promises of a free trade agreement, organizations like the U.S. – Hungary Business Council will continue to ensure our countries build the economic pillar of our alliance. Our conversations and meetings in Budapest this week have been key to setting those building blocks in place.

But if you remain frustrated at a seemingly slow progression in our countries’ relationship, I advise: be patient—the wave is coming.

Eric Stewart is the President of the U.S. – Hungary Business Council, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, DC that promotes increased economic ties between the United States and Hungary.