Remarks before the French-American Chamber of Commerce

Charles H. Rivkin
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs
Washington, DC
May 19, 2016

As prepared

Thank you, Jean-Marc, for that kind introduction.

I want to start by offering my condolences to the friends and family of all those on EgyptAir’s flight 804 today. You are in our thoughts and prayers and America will do everything we can to help with this investigation.

M. l’Ambassadeur, Mesdames et messieurs les dirigeants et chefs d’entreprise, entrepreneurs, décideurs institutionnels, influenceurs et membres de la presse, ainsi que tous ceux parmi vous qui aspirent à créer des entreprises et à investir aux Etats-Unis…

C’est un honneur pour moi de participer à ce forum et d’avoir l’opportunité de m’adresser à une assemblée aussi prestigieuse de chefs d’entreprise et entrepreneurs. Entrepreneur, un terme français qui fait aujourd’hui partie intégrante du vocabulaire américain et de notre ADN.

C’est aussi un honneur pour moi de me trouver aujourd’hui avec des représentants de ce pays que j’aime tant.

Today – and in English! – I would like to revisit what I just said, as I also explore my topic: I’m calling it: “The Once, Present and Future Friendship: Adapting Our Economic Relationship for the Years to Come.”

The title refers to “The Once and Future King,” the novel about the English King Arthur. And that title comes, in turn, from a French inscription on the tomb of Arthur that was described in “Le Morte d’Arthur,” by Sir Thomas Malory.

The inscription said – in Latin: “Here lies King Arthur, king once, and king to be.”

My point is this: Our countries have built two centuries of friendship together. And that friendship continues – in the present.

But the world is changing rapidly. And while many traditions in both our cultures can – and must – be preserved, we must change with the world. And we must preserve our friendship along with it.

We have the enormous potential to build a prosperous future together as friends and partners in a still-new 21st century.

This is the once, present and future friendship that we must continue to build.

I always have appreciated a quote from President Abraham Lincoln. He once said: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” Or in French: “Le meilleur moyen de prédire l’avenir est de le créer.”

Before I talk about what our countries can do to build that mutually prosperous future, I hope you’ll indulge me, as I share with you what France means to me personally.

I’ll start with a photograph that hangs on my office wall at the State Department. It’s a picture of my father – in Paris – under the Arc de Triomphe in his military attire – celebrating (and kissing a Frenchwoman!) on May 8, 1945.

That’s VE Day to Americans, and la fête de la victoire to the French. On that day, my father was 26 years old, and a decorated lieutenant colonel in Patton’s Army.

He was in Paris on August 25th, 1944 and wrote home to his parents about hearing Charles de Gaulle’s speaking live on the radio and saying his famous words “Paris outragé, Paris brisé, Paris martyrisé mais Paris libéré!”.

My father loved France and the French people and would oneday serve as US ambassador to two francophone countries: Luxembourg and Senegal.

More than a few years later, I lived in France for a year as a high school student in Rennes. And in college I came back to work in Paris with Renault.

While in Rennes, I stayed with a French family that spoke no English. There was no other choice but to learn French! I remember, every morning, my “French father” (or père adoptif – whose name was Gerard Gervais – would put on a record by a singer of the time named Yves Duteil.

I would watch and listen, as this warmhearted and burly man, who stood more than six feet tall, sang softly the then-famous song called “Prendre un enfant par la main.”

That’s how I woke up every morning in 1979.

Gerard was a travelling salesman who sold blue jeans. Once he took me on a business trip from Rennes all the way to Besançon.

As many in this audience will know, that trip takes you across the very heart of France, from West to East.

And it was my first opportunity to see the richness – the heartland! – of France and I never forgot it.

Later, after 20 years working as a businessman in California, I had the honor to follow in my father’s foot steps and serve as U.S. Ambassador to France and Monaco for over four and a half years.

While I served in that position, I took up where I left off on that memorable trip to Besancon: I visited all 22 regions of france at the time - y compris la Corse. Some of those towns hadn’t seen an U.S. Ambassador for more than a 100 years.

During those travels, I started to consistently hear a word that really resonated with me. It has no direct translation in English. The word is “terroir.” And it refers to the earth but in a greater cultural, historical and ecological sense.

It is about the pride of a region, its history, its culture and its identity. And in one word, it incorporates why for example Roquefort cheese can – and should – only come from Roquefort.

Of course, as I pointed out to my friends abroad, every country, including the United States also has geographically specific assets. In the United States, there is only one Kentucky Bourbon, only one Idaho potato, only one Florida orange juice, and only one Vidalia onion!

This cultural matter was to become timely for me when Secretary Kerry invited me to become Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs.

Here was an opportunity that, in many ways, life had prepared me for.

That was to help build a prosperous and secure future for both our countries, with respect for the sanctity of tradition but not at the cost of the free movement of trade and investment.

As Assistant Secretary, I am honored to lead a bureau that works to promote two-way trade and investment with many countries, including France and the European Union.

The U.S.-EU relationship is already the largest in the world. It makes up nearly half of global GDP. We trade about $1 trillion in goods and services each year. We invest nearly $4 trillion in each other’s economies.

But we know we can grow even more. And one of our most important efforts to do that is through the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – or T-TIP.

My Bureau is integral to the negotiations, where we are working to conclude an ambitious, comprehensive, and high-standard agreement. At its heart, this trade deal will deepen our ties. It will simplify trade to help our economies, drive more exports, decrease barriers to trade and investment, grow our businesses, and support more well-paying jobs.

T-TIP will not only boost economic growth in the United States and the EU. It will add to the more than 14 million American and EU jobs already supported by transatlantic trade and investment. We will also build on the transatlantic ties that undergird our national security.

We have a shared interest with France and the EU in writing the rules for trade together.

We all want the same opportunities for our businesses, employers, and entrepreneurs. And we all want this deal to ensure current high levels of protection for consumers, workers, and the environment.

For some, the trade negotiations pose a threat to the old ways and traditions. And the big question for many is: can we create a trade deal that threads that needle? Can we build lanes of open commerce and also preserve culture?

These negotiations are where the notion of “Terroir” and so-called “geographic indications” has arisen.

As we have pointed out, companies making roqueforts and other famous foreign products have been able to successfully use the U.S. trademark system to protect those products in the U.S.

And EU exports of agricultural products to the U.S. have grown steadily over the last several years.

But on the other hand, U.S. companies have experienced significant difficulties in seeking to register their geographic indications in the EU.

The truth is, we both have intellectual property we must protect. Right now, we come at it from different perspectives. The negotiations are seeking to find a compromise that recognizes the importance of protecting intellectual property as an engine of economic growth.

I understand that the politics are challenging on both sides. But I firmly believe common sense and the facts will ultimately prevail as this deal is as much strategic as it is economic.

We will keep making our case, stating the facts and dispelling any misperceptions.

I am confident we will mobilize the necessary political will, effort and determination on both sides to complete this agreement.

As I said before, the world is rapidly changing. It has become flatter, more connected, and therefore more interdependent. We must change, too, if the U.S.-French economic relationship is to grow.

A concluded trade deal would help the United States and Europe set the standard for rules of the road, not only in trade and investment, not only for environmental and working conditions, but in easing restrictions on small and medium businesses and start-up enterprises.

Creating opportunities for our SMEs – in both directions – is one of the most effective ways we can reaffirm our centuries-long friendship and retool it for the 21st century.

SMEs are the engines of economic growth. According to the USTR, 99 per cent of European and US companies – that’s 20 million companies in the EU and 28 million in the U.S. – are SMEs.

In the European Union, SMEs created 85 per cent of net new jobs between 2002 and 2010. And in the United States, small businesses have provided more than half of all jobs and two-thirds of all net new jobs in recent decades.

With T-TIP and increased trade and investment in both directions, they can create even more. And thanks to the digital economy, their possibilities are even greater.

Here is another frontier where our partnership would bring benefits to both our countries. The Internet has had a transformative effect on our economies, fundamentally changing the products and services we buy, and how we buy them. It has also dramatically reduced the cost of moving products and services across borders.

Maintaining a free and open Internet with thoughtful safeguards and privacy protections is essential to preserving that new dynamism. It helps support creative industries, traditional industries, and future growth in both our economies.

Lately, I have been thinking about my former French host-father, Gerard. He used to sell his blue jeans, door to door. His success depended entirely on his physical ability to get around, to travel, to knock on doors, and depend on a small circle of repeat customers.

Now, his world has virtually disappeared. But in its place is more opportunity –and less hardship – for the Gerards and the Jeremys of today.

Thanks to the growth of the digital economy; and thanks to the enormous potential that T-TIP can bring; small to medium business owners can pursue markets they would never have imagined even a few years ago.

For example, a textile company in France called Sommer Needlepunch manufactures biodegradable carpets and floor coverings. It employs 130 workers in France. And it has sales of approximately $700,000 to the United States.

The company plans to open a production facility in Georgia in 2018, where it will add another 40 people to the payroll, with an investment that could reach $5.6 million.

T-TIP will eliminate tariffs so that businesses like this one can make those expansions, and it creates opportunities for more transatlantic supply chains.

Thanks to the United States’ economic policies, transatlantic investment flows since 2000 have grown to their largest level in 2015. In fact, 60 percent of all foreign-provided services in the United States are supplied by EU investors.

France’s Total, one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies, has partnered with SunPower. In 2015, Total completed the Solar Star Projects in California, which provides electricity to nearly 255,000 California homes.

“Suez,” another powerful French company, invested in United Water of New Jersey in 2000. It now provides water services to more than 13 million Americans, creating over 4,300 jobs.

And right here in Washington, tens of thousands of people take the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) to work every day. I don’t think many of them realize that the VRE is operated and maintained by Keolis, a French company.

With equal opportunities for US companies in the other direction, we could create more jobs for American and French workers.

Unfortunately, France’s Decree of May 2014 requires government authorization for investment in a range of sectors, including water, transport, energy, electronic communications, public health, and any other activity considered to be of vital importance.

There are few economic relationships that are older or deeper than the one between the United States and France. Our bilateral economic relationship is already one of the strongest in the world, and in the spirit of the “Once, Present and Future friendship” I mentioned earlier, let’s continue to evolve and grow our economic relationship and our friendship even further in the 21st century.

As Victor Hugo once said: “There is nothing in the world – not even mighty armies – as powerful as an idea whose time has come.”

Or in French: “Rien n’est plus puissant – pas même les plus grandes armées - qu’une idée dont le temps est venu.”

Repurposing our longstanding friendship, through open and increased trade and investment – is an idea whose time has come.

By embracing shared prosperity, breaking barriers and opening channels of commerce, we will be creating our own future. And I am sure Abraham Lincoln would approve of the way we are creating that future together!

Merci, thank you – I enjoyed having the chance to speak with you and I would be pleased to answer a few questions.