13 Nov 2015

Arun Kumar brings ‘good news’ from US on innovative investments

The World Trade Institute was pleased to host the Director General of the US and Foreign Commercial Service on 12 November during his visit to Switzerland aimed at supporting and encouraging the deepening of the “robust commercial partnership” between the two countries.

Arun M. Kumar, who is also Assistant Secretary for Global Markets, addressed a large group at the WTI that included government officials, academics and students, and spoke on the topic ’Innovative investments in the US: Good news from Washington’, with the focus on the US investment promotion strategy and efforts to foster entrepreneurship and innovation.  Assistant Secretary Kumar was welcomed to the WTI by its deputy managing director, Manfred Elsig, and said he was happy to be in Bern for his first official visit to Switzerland since taking office in 2014.The gathering at the WTI was like a mini United Nations, he joked.  The US embassy in Bern was represented by Ambassador Suzan LeVine, Economic Of‎ficer Jeremy Beer and Public Affairs Officer Stephanie Morimura and Senior Public Affairs Specialist Gaby Bloem.  Touching first on US-Swiss economic ties, the assistant secretary said Switzerland was one of the United States’ leading commercial partners, and the US was grateful for this robust relationship. Switzerland is a top-10 US export market for services trade and in the top 20 for the total trade market. In addition, Switzerland is the eighth-largest investor in the United States, the top investor in US research and development, and the regional headquarters for major US companies.  The scope of these ties is particularly impressive given Switzerland’s population of only eight million, he added. Two-way investment between the United States and Switzerland in 2014 exceeded $305 billion. US and Swiss companies, through these investments, employ thousands of each other’s workers on both sides of the Atlantic every day.

Investment promotion
Turning next to the US strategy for investment promotion, the assistant secretary said the US was the world’s premier destination for investment and home to more foreign direct investment than any other country in the world. It had had to work hard to achieve this status.  Business investment into the United States is coordinated by SelectUSA, established by President Obama in 2011 and which serves as a single point of contact for investors. SelectUSA connects business decision makers, economic development organizations (EDOs), and investors; and helps EDOs and investors to find answers on federal rules and regulations. Since 2011, SelectUSA has facilitated over $20 billion of investments in the United States, generated thousands of jobs; and spurred economic growth. The United States welcomes additional Swiss investment and hopes for even stronger Swiss participation in future, Kumar said.

Fostering entrepreneurship
Highlighting the Commerce Department’s commitment to fostering entrepreneurship, the assistant secretary said America’s entrepreneurial spirit was “both a source of domestic competitiveness and indeed one of our greatest exports”.   “Before joining Commerce in 2014, I spent several years in the private sector as an entrepreneur. I know first-hand the hard work and creativity it takes to start, run and scale a business. Thus I am particularly motivated to work with other senior Commerce leaders to ensure that our department is prepared to move at the speed of business so that we can support entrepreneurs to build and realise their dreams,” Kumar said.  “As more Swiss companies, especially start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises, look to set up operations in the United States, our team at SelectUSA is prepared to assist them.”  Startup Global is a new initiative that helps entrepreneurs and early-stage companies to think global from day one by providing the know-how and technical assistance they need in order to export their goods and services from the United States to overseas markets.  Another initiative, Skills for Business, aims to better align worker education and training programmes with the jobs in US communities.  A Joint Declaration signed in July between the US Departments of Commerce, Labor, and Education and the Swiss Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research of the Swiss Confederation provides a framework for the two countries to cooperate in areas as work-based training, curriculum development, credential recognition, pathways to career development, and the expansion of programmes into new industry sectors, Kumar said.   Following the signing, a number of Swiss companies, including Nestle, Buhler, and Zurich Insurance, have announced plans to expand or create new apprenticeship programmes in the United States.

An ecosystem for innovation 
The Commerce Department is “America’s Innovation Agency”, Kumar said. It issues patents to protect intellectual property, offers start-ups the tools to think globally from day one, and deploys entrepreneurship ambassadors to mentor and inspire young innovators at home and abroad.  Commerce is also working with communities to develop comprehensive economic development strategies that maximise their strengths and attract manufacturers to their markets.   The task of promoting innovation is essential to the long-term prosperity of the US, Kumar said, “because when entrepreneurs have the chance to pursue their dreams, they form leading firms; they enhance our competitiveness; and they create jobs”.  “Switzerland is a world leader when it comes to innovation, having topped the Global Innovation Index two years in a row, in 2014 and 2015. I hope that the United States and Switzerland can continue to share best practices when it comes to promoting innovation,” the assistant secretary said in conclusion.