“Well, that’s a complicated one,” Madeline Albright responded, when I introduced myself as coming from Ukraine. I managed to exchange a few words on geopolitics with the remarkable American politician, diplomat and former US Secretary of State at the presentation of her new book last month in Chicago. I was in the US for the annual board meeting and conference of AmChams in Europe, the umbrella organization for 44 American Chambers of Commerce from 42 countries throughout Europe and Eurasia.
AmChams in Europe, where I serve as a Treasurer, represents the interests of more than 17,000 American and European companies employing 20 million workers – accounting for more than USD 1.1 trillion in investment on both sides of the Atlantic. As part of the once yearly visit to the US, the heads of the AmChams have a wide array of meetings set up with business and government in Washington and, this year, also in Chicago, a sister city of Kyiv.
Each specific AmCham also has an opportunity to arrange an event and meet with their country’s key stakeholders in the US capital. Our particular roundtable discussion was branded: "Ukraine's Business Outlook: A Diamond in the Rough" most kindly hosted by Baker & McKenzie, a top law firm, at their amazing DC offices overlooking the White House. It is, probably, the best view of the official residence and workplace of the President of the United States in all of Washington. In my presentation I focused on the tangible encouraging examples of US companies operating in Ukraine. The list was rather extensive, to the surprise of many in the audience featuring three dozen corporate decision makers and analysts. A report by Robert Homans, a DC based Ukraine-watcher, commenting on the event, summarized: “The more US owned or affiliated companies will be present in Ukraine – the more irreversible changes in anti-corruption practices we’ll see. In this regard, both AmCham and the US-Ukraine Business Council can be proud of their efforts in fostering US companies operating in Ukraine.”
En route to this roundtable event, I stopped by a local CVS, an American convenience store, and purchased an Oreo chocolate bar. Oreo, as you (and especially children) are probably aware, is a favorite US brand, “the world's favorite cookie.” I pulled out the chocolate during my presentation and amazed many by exhibiting that the candy bar had MADE IN UKRAINE printed on its wrapper. Mondelez, the USD 25 billion American multinational confectionery food company produces and distributes Oreos biscuits from Ukraine across Western Europe. Next time you are in the US, make sure you pick up an Oreo Milka bar made at the Mondelez factory in Ukraine’s Sumy region. I recently visited the plant, located 45km from the Russian border, and was inspired by the Mondelez Ukraine team.
In light of discouraging and sometimes depressing news coming out of Ukraine, there is still much positive to tell about the multinational companies working on the ground successfully. Not all wish to be overly visible, with some preferring to continue to operate modestly. Still, with the excellent progress made over the past 12 months in regards to refunds of Value Added Tax (VAT) to exporters, this has made a significant improvement for international businesses operating out of Ukraine. This was one of many encouraging messages that we delivered during meetings.
Trade between US and Ukraine is seeing positive instances. A worrying issue, however, in US-Ukraine trade relations remains the state of Intellectual Property protection and enforcement. Intellectual property protection is critical to fostering innovation. It covers everything from original plays and novels to inventions and company identification marks. The purpose of intellectual property laws is to encourage new technologies, artistic expression and inventions while promoting economic growth. Ukraine remains a "Priority Watchlist country" judged by the United States Trade Representative (USTR) as having "serious intellectual property rights deficiencies" that require increased USTR attention. The three key issues remain (1) the unfair, nontransparent administration of the system for Collective Management Organizations (CMOs), which are responsible for collecting and distributing royalties to U.S. and other right holders; (2) widespread use of unlicensed software by Ukrainian government agencies; and (3) failure to implement an effective means to combat the widespread online infringement of copyright in Ukraine. We look forward to the establishment of the National IP Office as a new independent body that can become a strong voice for Intellectual Property in Ukraine.
Hearing plenty of good news from international companies in Ukraine, there is still much to do in regards to enhancing Rule of Law. Most importantly - launching the Anti-Corruption Court. The business community sees this as an indispensable next step, continuing on Ukraine’s reform path.