U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker Addresses Importance of Ukraine’s Economic Reform Agenda at First-Ever U.S.-Ukraine Business Forum

Yesterday, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker addressed the first-ever U.S.-Ukraine Business Forum. The Forum consisted of a series of high-level discussions focused on advancing Ukraine’s economic reform agenda and improving trade and investment opportunities between the U.S. and Ukraine.

Co-hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the forum gathered high-level government and business leaders from both countries, including Vice President Joe Biden, Prime Minister of Ukraine Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Secretary Pritzker, Deputy Secretary Bruce Andrews, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donahue, Ukrainian Minister of Finance Natalie Jaresko, and Ukrainian Minister of Economy and Trade Aivaras Abromavičius.

During her remarks, Secretary Pritzker affirmed the Obama Administration’s commitment to Ukraine’s ambitious economic reform agenda and the importance of the private sector in improving Ukraine’s investment climate. The Secretary made clear that if Ukraine can continue to build on its recent progress and enact deep and durable economic reforms, the country can become a place where new businesses can start up and grow, and where American and global firms want to direct their capital. This forum provided an opportunity for U.S. private sector leaders to directly share recommendations that will help Ukraine’s leaders understand what conditions are needed to secure a brighter future for the Ukrainian people.

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Let me begin by thanking our co-host for today’s event, Tom Donohue and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. You have been eager and reliable partners for us at the Department of Commerce. The Chamber has been a tremendous partner to the Department of Commerce both in Ukraine and in markets around the world.

They have invested heavily in making today’s forum possible and can be a remarkably effectively ally in mobilizing the American business community to support this effort. Our Department is ready to continue deepening our partnership.

Prime Minister Yatsenyuk: thank you for your inspiring leadership and for traveling here today to outline your vision for the economic future of Ukraine to our American business leaders. I would also like to thank President Poroshenko, who could not join us today. During my visit to Kyiv last year, President Poroshenko and I discussed our shared vision for Ukraine’s prosperity, and his continued leadership has been critical in advancing reforms.

Finally, I want to recognize all the Ministers who have traveled to Washington for this forum. You have been on the front lines of Ukraine’s economic reform efforts, working in some of the most difficult of circumstances to increase prosperity for your people.

The President, the Prime Minister, and the Cabinet are made up of extraordinary men and women who have made a deep commitment to set a positive course for Ukraine’s economy in the face of an extremely complex situation.

Today’s forum is, in many ways, a direct result of the Maidan. Eighteen months ago, the entire world watched as Ukrainian students and activists, workers and business leaders, took to the streets to demand a brighter, more prosperous future for their country. The Maidan was a call to action from people who had had enough. The protestors demanded an end to kleptocracy and economic stagnation.

They fought for the right to build an economy founded on fairness and opportunity. And they expressed a desire for closer commercial ties to Europe. These brave men and women sought to discard a past of corruption and state control of their economy in favor of a future of transparency, collective determination, and prosperity.

Now, Ukraine’s elected leaders are faced with the task of turning those aspirations into reality. To achieve their goals, the President, the Prime Minister, and their team must build an open and transparent marketplace. They must facilitate fair competition, founded on the rule of law. And they must draw capital from international investors and companies. These are audacious goals.

The President and Prime Minister are both committed to this agenda, and they have made real progress in a short period.  Since I visited Kyiv last September, the President and Prime Minister have pressed ahead with an ambitious economic reform agenda, enacting a number of measures that reflect a gradual shift towards a functioning, rules-based, market economy.

They made it easier to start and close a business, and reduced the number of inspections and paperwork required to run a business. They have curbed related-party lending to build a more robust financial system. They have made Ukraine’s natural gas market more competitive by committing to dismantling monopolies and allowing consumers to choose their own gas supplier. They established a supervisory board to guide the reform of state-owned enterprises and prepare them for a transparent privatization process. They adopted new electronic systems to streamline government procurement and ensure transparency in such purchases. They brought Ukraine’s criminal legislation into compliance with international standards and established a national Anticorruption Bureau to investigate high-level corruption.

Ukraine’s march to reform continues. Just last month, the Rada adopted a number of new economic measures, which increase incentives for the construction of renewable energy facilities; bring public procurement procedures in line with international standards; and give the public access to public meetings online and the electronic records of legislative sessions.

If Ukraine can continue to build on this progress and secure deep, durable economic reforms, the country can become a place where small and medium size businesses can start up and grow, with the support of venture capital.

The country can become a place where local governments compete to provide the best landing place for new companies. The country can become a place where university graduates find good paying jobs in agribusiness and the IT sectors. The country can become a place where a wider and deeper tax base enables them to build more hospitals, roads, and schools for the next generation.

This forum is an opportunity for the senior leaders of Ukraine to share their specific accomplishments to date and to explain their next steps, as well as their vision for the future of their country.

The President and Prime Minister are well aware that the reforms enacted thus far represent just a portion of the actions required to achieve the desired economic prosperity for the Ukrainian people. They want to hear directly from you, our U.S. corporate leaders, about the challenges your companies face in the market. They want to work with you to develop and advance a comprehensive pro-business reform agenda. And they want to build on your business success to attract new business and investment. This is not just an exercise. The President and Prime Minister have committed to use your feedback and ideas to help guide the next phase of their efforts.

The current Ukrainian government is not alone in its fight for a brighter future. The Obama Administration has delivered $2 billion in loan guarantees to protect the most vulnerable Ukrainian households from the impact of the necessary economic adjustments that come with structural reform. And we have committed nearly $16 million to fund programs focused on economic stabilization, reform, and growth.

Our efforts complement the assistance and advice from other governments and multilateral institutions, such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the International Finance Corporation, and the World Bank. We are pleased to have their representatives here today.  The financial and technical aid that the international community has provided is essential in the short term to give Ukraine the breathing room needed to transition to a durable economic profile.

But government assistance is not a long-term answer. Aid will never be a substitute for an equitable, transparent, and flourishing marketplace that is driven by the private sector. President Poroshenko and Prime Minister Yatsenyuk recognize that, to achieve this goal, they need to enlist both American and international business leaders as partners in reform. Their government is here today to both tell their story and to hear your views on how they can streamline their bureaucracy, create certainty, and generally improve the investment climate in Ukraine. This is your moment to be direct and honest, to help Ukraine’s leaders understand what conditions are needed to secure a brighter future for the Ukrainian people.

Prime Minister Yatsenyuk and his team know that Ukraine has a mountain of challenges to overcome. Yet they have taken steps in the face of tough odds to change the trajectory of their country.  They want to earn your trust, your confidence, and, ultimately, your investment. We look forward to frank and fruitful discussions today.

Now, it is my pleasure to introduce another key American partner to the people and government of Ukraine: Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt.