By Matt Garrick (August 10, 2011)
In a coup for Lithuanian companies which could potentially launch them further onto the global trading stage, the first ever U.S. Congress certified United States Trade Mission to the country has been confirmed to take place from Sept. 26 to 27 this year, in Vilnius. Announced in a press conference on Aug. 8, the trade mission will involve as participants a selection of mega-corporations from the Fortune 500 (an annual ranking of America’s most powerful companies) to attract them into expanding or investing into different Lithuanian business markets.
Companies including global telecommunications heavyweight AT&T, and energy industry monolith Exelon, will be taking part, the presence of which has stirred positive remarks from both business and political sectors.
“The participation of such well-known companies as AT&T and Exelon will certainly encourage other large companies to consider the opportunity to expand their businesses to Lithuania. We are also starting the registration of Lithuanian companies,” announced the chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in Lithuania, Tadas Vizgirda. “During the trade mission, companies from both countries will be able to directly consider the opportunities of cooperation,” he elaborated.
The trade mission, or as Vizgirda put it, the “two days of match-making,” could broaden horizons for Lithuanian businesses to tap into what Lithuanian Minister of Economy Rimantas Zylius has called “the [world’s] deepest investment market.”
Amid a period when the U.S. economy continues to struggle with massive national debt, questions were raised about the timing of such an endeavor in aiding Lithuanian businesses. However, politicians dismissed any suggestions that the mission would yield fruitless results.
“What we believe is that the United States will remain the most significant economy for a long time,” Zylius told TBT.
Lithuania already hosts offshore factories for household U.S. brand names including Phillip Morris, Kraft Foods, Coca Cola and Mars, so to aim for increased trade, especially for a U.S. Congress certified mission, was viewed as a ‘no-brainer.’
“It is an introduction of United States trade missions to Lithuania. What we hope to see is that several contracts will be signed in this mission. But what we are looking for really is the development of Lithuanian missions going to the United States, and United States missions repeating year after year, which will definitely bring bigger awareness for sending Lithuanian business to America, and vice versa,” explained Zylius.
During the press conference, attended by Zylius and Vizgirda alongside the U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania, Anne E. Derse, the importance of a trade agreement to increase fluidity between both countries’ commercial ties was a center-point. “This first ever trade mission is an investment in what we hope will be a continuing expansion in our commercial relations,” said Derse.
This initial trade mission has been viewed as a trial, which could hopefully kick-start a larger and longer standing relationship between the two countries. “I don’t want to focus on just how many specific deals come out of this trade mission. I’d like to focus on the fact that if this is a success, it will then be something we can repeat, in another year, or two years,” she affirmed.
The idea of the trade mission first arose during a visit to Lithuania from the deputy assistant secretary for the U.S. Congress trade department, Juan Verde, who by chance was stranded in the country due to the Icelandic volcano ash cloud halting flights in 2010. During his extended stint in Lithuania, Verde managed to dig deeper into the country’s business culture, and upon seeing a busy, prosperous and somewhat untouched market, he approached the U.S. Ambassador to propose the trade mission for 2011.
“When he visited Lithuania by invitation, he did not know much about the possibilities here. But once he came and looked, and saw, he was the one that said to me, we should do this. We should do a trade mission. To bring the opportunities from Lithuania to the attention of the American trade sector,” confirmed Derse.
She commented on the viability of Verde’s opinion, judging by his successful past record on similar trade missions. “While he was head of the American Chamber of Commerce in the Canary Islands, in Spain, they had some twelve trade missions, if I’m not mistaken. Twelve successful trade missions,” she noted.
Derse closed her announcement with the point that, although governments from both countries played a pivotal role in setting up the trade mission, for further confirmation of added deals and investment, it would rest on the individual companies involved.
“What governments can do is what we’re doing here: working together to create a good business environment in Lithuania, and from my side, try to bring the opportunities here to the attention of [U.S.] companies. Fundamentally, they’ll make the decisions once they get here and see the possibilities with Lithuanian companies,” she stated.
Some of the principal industries which would be focused on amid the trade mission incorporated a wide variety of contemporary technologies and energy source manufacturers. Some listed included the fields of information technology, computer software development, renewable energies such as wind and solar, the production of solar panels, bio-plastics and bio-mass production.
To try and hoist the chances for attracting investment opportunities into Lithuania, as well as to entice more companies to join the trade mission, discussions leading up to the event will be held in major U.S. business centers during August and September. These places include powerhouse districts such as Silicon Valley, Chicago Metro and Houston, Texas. It has been approximated that around 100 international U.S. companies will be participating.
“One thing we can say is that open and increased trade and investment will contribute to financial stability, economic stability, and growth,” Derse concluded.