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Under Secretary Marisa Lago Remarks - April 4, 2022

Remarks by Under Secretary Marisa Lago at the U.S.-Croatia Forum

Zagreb, Croatia
April 4, 2022

As Prepared for Delivery 

Thank you, Dino, for that kind introduction.

Mr. President, ladies, and gentlemen, I am delighted to be here to celebrate 30 years of cooperation and friendship between Croatia and the United States, and to mark the incredible strides that Croatia has taken in that time.

On behalf of the Biden-Harris Administration, let me say how pleased we are to be so warmly welcomed to Croatia, a close partner and integral part of our unshakeable NATO alliance. 

I am also pleased to be joined today by such a robust delegation from across the U.S. Government, including our country team, led here in Zagreb by Chargé d’Affaires Mark Fleming. 

For a moment, let us go back to the 7th of April 1992, when the United States formally recognized Croatia’s independence, at a time when your Homeland War was entering its second year. The United States was with you during those difficult times and has been ever since, working together to forge a durable peace through the Dayton Agreement, and assisting with post war reconstruction and NATO and European Union integrations.

The horrific scenes emerging from Ukraine are a painful parallel to the struggle and suffering that Croatia endured. And the specter of Russian aggression on Europe’s flank demands that we urgently redouble our engagement in the region—whether in addressing energy security challenges or supporting allies, like Croatia, that offer an alternate vision to Putin’s belligerence.

In Dubrovnik yesterday, I laid a wreath to commemorate the 26th anniversary of a plane crash in which U.S. Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown and 34 others—Americans and Croatians—perished.

They were on a mission of hope, channeling the power of commerce to strengthen a nascent peace. They came to promote U.S. trade and investment with Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, to help these and other new democracies in Central and Southeastern Europe speed their integration into the global economy.

I have no doubt that, could those who perished 26 years ago be with us in Zagreb today, they would marvel at Croatia’s progress since independence. They would take great satisfaction in the leadership that Croatia provides for other countries in the region, and in the blossoming of our bilateral relationship. 

In less than three decades, trade flows between our nations have grown more than 10-fold and today are nearly balanced, a truly symbiotic partnership. Investment has also flourished in both directions. U.S.-linked companies in Croatia supported nearly a tenth of Croatia’s gross domestic product in 2020, with companies like Vertiv and IBM in Zagreb, General Electric in Karlovac and others driving exports and creating high-quality jobs in a wide variety of industries.

Croatian companies are likewise well established in the United States, especially in the digital sector. Companies like Infobip, Belabeat and Q-Software are a testament to the strength and dynamism of Croatia’s digital entrepreneurship. 

Still, our economic relationship extends well beyond fast-growing commercial ties. Our three decades of friendship have also been shaped by bilateral economic policy successes.

Croatia’s recent admission to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program is one key step in this growth. So too is the conclusion of negotiations on a Double Taxation Treaty, which once approved by the U.S. Senate and the parliament of Croatia, will reduce barriers to cross-border investments. 

Today, I am happy to announce another step to remove perceived barriers to business and travel. Later today, U.S. Special Envoy for the Western Balkans, Gabriel Escobar, will sign a joint agreement marking a significant step toward making Croatia a coveted foreign partner country that participates in the Global Entry program. Global Entry is a U.S. Department of Homeland Security program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. This program will allow those Croatian citizens who participate even greater ease in traveling to the United States, whether for business, education or tourism. 

We are excited to take this step and are grateful to the Croatian government for its continued leadership on economic and business reforms.

We have come so far together in the past 30 years, and nurturing our relationship for the next 30 years and beyond will demand leveraging economic and commercial ties to meet broader strategic and economic security aims. Beyond mutual prosperity and open trade and travel, we must work together to meet the challenges and opportunities of the Twenty-First Century, from protecting critical infrastructure to combatting climate change. 

As part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s ambitious commitment to tackle the climate crisis at home and abroad, the Department of Commerce is doing its part to reduce emissions and accelerate the clean technology transition. Under our forthcoming Clean Technology Export Competitiveness Strategy, we will boost exports of cutting-edge climate technology to help nations like Croatia to fight climate change, improve energy security and transition to clean energy.

Beyond climate, we must also work together to protect the security and integrity of our markets and infrastructure. This starts with ensuring that public procurement is transparent, seeks the best value, and rewards competition. It also means insisting on free and fair trade and investment, and resisting unfair practices. And it means protecting critical infrastructure from malign influence, so that we can place our full confidence in the physical and digital systems on which our safety, prosperity, and democratic systems rely. 

To that end, the United States has developed robust legal and regulatory frameworks to safeguard our security when weighing investments in critical infrastructure and strategic sectors. We strongly encourage our allies to do the same and will gladly offer our experience as a guide. 

On these and other priorities, the Commerce Department and U.S Government as a whole look forward to working closely with the Croatian government to promote strong, inclusive and equitable growth, and economic security, in both of our nations.  

Our companies stand ready to support Croatia with its National Recovery and Resilience Program, its climate transition and digital transformation, and improvements to its healthcare system.

Today and tomorrow, alongside this Forum’s main sessions, more than a dozen U.S. companies will present on solutions and technologies that will catalyze progress along a wide range of priorities.

At the same time, I warmly invite those here from the Croatian private sector to take this opportunity to explore business and investment opportunities in the United States. In particular, I encourage those considering opening offices or facilities in the United States to speak to our SelectUSA representative and consider attending our annual SelectUSA Summit, which will be held nearby to Washington, D.C. on the 26th through 29th of June.

It is an honor to be here to celebrate your 30 years of independence and progress. The world is certainly no less complex today, and the challenges we face reinforce the timeless importance of returning to shared values. May our joint commitment to a more secure, prosperous, inclusive, and sustainable world propel our partnership into its fourth decade of strength and success. Thank you.