Remarks: AMCHAM Reception

Remarks by U.S. Charge d’Affaires a.i. Lisa Johnson

Good evening, and welcome to Liberty Overlook.  This grand estate has been the official residence of the American Ambassador to The Bahamas for decades, and is a tangible symbol of the United States’ commitment to The Bahamas as one of our closest partners in this part of the world.

The strong relationship that we’ve built with our Bahamian friends over the past 40 years is based on our shared political values, such as a commitment to democracy and respect for the rule of law.  But it is also the result of the fact that our people know each other well and work together every single day.

Nowhere is that fact more evident than in the business and economic ties between The Bahamas and the United States.  The Bahamas is one of the United States’ 50 most significant trading partners in real terms.  In 2013 alone, the United States exported $3.3 billion in goods and services to the Bahamas, and imported $565 million in Bahamian products.

Millions of Americans visit The Bahamas every year as tourists, and thousands of American companies do business here every day.  Clearly, the commercial bonds between our two countries are as strong as ever.  And we will continue to work together to make them even stronger.

That brings me to the point of tonight’s gathering.  Given the numbers that I just mentioned, I was surprised to find that there is no American Chamber of Commerce in The Bahamas.  Affiliated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, AmChams are unique organizations that provide an American perspective in their countries on issues related to taxes, trade, investment and competitiveness issues.  They also partner effectively with other stakeholders – including local Chambers of Commerce and the government – to ensure a growth oriented business and investment climate.

AmChams exist in some 103 countries around the globe, both large and small.  In this region, AmCham Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean just opened its doors just three months ago.

The U.S. Embassy thinks an AmCham Bahamas would offer the American business community here a number of services and advantages.  As The Bahamas continues to seek additional foreign direct investment, an AmCham would be an invaluable tool in providing access to Washington, D.C. and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and also to Chambers of Commerce in each of the 50 U.S. states.

AmCham would provide matchmaking possibilities, including opportunities to tap into the Small Business Associations and other mechanisms in the United States that assist in the development of small and medium sized businesses.  AmCham would also be an added voice to issues affecting all businesses in The Bahamas, such as the cost of energy.

Finally, much like this house, AmCham would be another tangible symbol of the partnership between the United States and The Bahamas, and the opportunities that exist for our respective private sectors to contribute to the well-being and prosperity of both our great countries.

I’ve talked a bit about what an AmCham is.  I’d like to talk for a brief moment about what it is not.  First, AmCham is not only for U.S. companies.  Any company that has a business relationship with the United States is welcome to join.  Also, AmCham would not replace other local chambers of commerce, but rather would be an additional partner in the effort to make The Bahamas a more business-friendly place.

Finally, AmCham is not island specific, but rather countrywide. To be successful, the organization will need support from, and to represent the interests of, the American business community from all over The Bahamas – New Providence, Grand Bahama Eleuthera, Bimini, and all of the Family Islands.  I was delighted to hear that companies in Abaco and Exuma have already expressed an interest in joining.

In closing, I want to recognize Jim Schaefer from Old Fort Partners in Nassau, who you’ve already heard from, and Dan Romence, the General Manager of Bradford Marine in Freeport.  Jim and Dan have agreed to serve as the President and Treasurer of the AmCham Board of Directors, and they are doing much of the heavy lifting in getting the organization established and off the ground.

Ladies and gentlemen, an unknown author has written: “We all dream of success.  The winners wake up and work hard to achieve it.”  Establishing the American Chamber of Commerce of The Bahamas will take patience, and a lot of hard work, but the AmCham board and the U.S. Embassy are committed to making AmCham one of the premier business organizations in this country.

I invite you join us, and to get involved from the very beginning.

Thank you, and enjoy the rest of the evening.