Press Advisories

22. 3. 2016 16:21

Speech of Vice-Prime Minister Pavel Bělobrádek in Beacon Council, Florida (21st March 2016)

Global business, global responsibility

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak to you. Although each of you represents a particular interest, at the same together you represent one common interest. And that common interest is support for the spirit of liberty. Support for the kind of world where both human rights and good business can flourish. Perhaps some will think this link somewhat inappropriate. But I do see it that way and will try to justify this idea in my talk.

In today’s global world the dominance of the West is fading, when we no longer have the political, economic and military strength to maintain the world order. Many take this as proof that our values are not universal ones. That the West is just one of a number of equal cultures. That the defence of human rights, freedom and democracy does not have any general significance on a planetary level.

Such a view is apparently supported by the fact that China plays an ever increasing role in the global economy. A country, which is everything possible, but hardly a beacon of freedom. At the same time it is a country with which Europe and the USA actively trade. So many say: why risk business with nonsense about human rights? We gain nothing by it, indeed we only hurt ourselves.

But that is just not true. Even if I were to pass over the moral dimension on giving up on our values in that way – which I most certainly do not want to – such an approach would also be short-sighted in terms of our long-term economic prosperity. At no period in history has any empire been able to achieve long-term prosperity while depriving its citizens of freedom.

The Roman Empire became strong thanks to a higher level of economic freedom and democracy in the days of the Republic. And its fall is linked to the fall of those values, to high taxes, to protectionism and ever increasing interference by the Emperors in trade.

China, of which I have already spoken, lost its great power status as a result of isolationism. By way of contrast, Europe began at the start of the second millennium to grow into the position of global superpower thanks to freedom and a commitment to innovation and entrepreneurship. At the beginning of the 19th century, the United States quickly built up its position thanks to freedom.

Put simply, freedom and business are closely related. People who are free work better. Free people are more creative. And last, but not least – free people make more money and can be sold more goods and services.

I know full well that businessmen go where money is to be made. It is not their main purpose to assess the state of politics, democracy and human rights. But nevertheless: if you have two equal opportunities – one in China and one, say, in a European NATO country, which will you choose? Not to mention the fact that there are many projects in strategic defence industries, research and development, which cannot be contracted out to China, or to Russia. Because they are not free countries.

No such barriers exist between the United States and the Czech Republic in trade, scientific and research collaboration. Work for the American defence sector is a not insignificant part of Czech research and development. And meanwhile, orders from the Czech army logically go to suppliers from NATO and thus the USA.

It is logical that trade between allies takes place with far fewer barriers than with others. Czech governments consistently promote the expansion of the transatlantic link to include the economic dimension. We share the same values and the same global interests. Business cooperation strengthens these shared values and interests.

I say all this full aware of the fact that as Deputy Prime Minister I have no authority to tell Czech businessmen with whom they should do business. But that is exactly the point. In countries which are not as free as the USA and the Czech Republic, that is not how it works. There, politicians have absolutely no qualms about interfering with commercial dealings.

So freedom is not just some kind of abstract moral value. It has its own clear impact on business and the economy. In the fact that free countries are in the end always more efficient as economies. And also in the fact that when you do a deal in a free country, you need not fear its cancellation by dictate from above. Or that someone will steal and copy the results of your work.

So when the Czech and American governments promote human rights and freedom around the world, they are not doing it to stop their businessmen doing deals. Even if in specific individual cases it may happen that a particular order fails to receive a licence. But from a long-term global perspective the governments of the free world are protecting their companies. Because they are trying to create for them the kind of conditions in which business flourishes.

It is in our common interest for there to be as few tariff and non-tariff barriers as possible on a global scale. But it is also in our common interest for us to fight against corruption, against oppression, against political interference in commercial relations, against protectionism, against unequal conditions, against an unfair justice system, and so on.

In genuinely free and fair competition our businessmen will succeed on their own. In this context I would like to refer briefly to our commercial relations with Cuba. For that matter, where else should such a debate take place than here in Florida, with its strong Cuba community?

Cuba is of course a country ruled by a dictatorship. On the other hand, we must acknowledge that the sanctions policy did not have the result that we intended. It did not lead to the fall of the regime, did not lead to the liberation of Cubans. The current easing, both by the EU and by the USA, can of course be seen as controversial purely from a moral perspective. On the other hand, this moral hazard does open up certain opportunities.

We will certainly agree that our final aim is for Cuba to once more be a country of the free world. How this is to be achieved is a matter for long debate, where not everyone will have the same opinion. Here I would like to say only one thing. If we are going to have an easing of our economic relations with the regime in Cuba, we must insist on this improving the position of Cubans in freedom and human rights. Otherwise any alleviation of sanctions would not be legitimate. And not only that.

If the Castro regime stays in place, if expansion of economic freedom is not followed by expansion of political freedoms, who can guarantee to businessmen that their investments will not one day be wasted through political interference? Just as happened to many Americans when that regime was established?

But if we succeed in linking easing of sanctions with pressure for human rights, with an improvement of the life of ordinary Cubans both in material terms and in terms of their freedom, then we will be able to say: we have done a good thing here. And it will without doubt have a positive impact on the economy in Florida, which is already the gateway to Latin America. A free Cuba would bring about further synergy benefits for the whole region.

For that matter this synergy is one of the main reasons for my visit here. Both in my role as Deputy Prime Minister, and as government minister responsible for Czech science, research and innovation.

The United States is our most important ally. It is also a major trading partner. It is a global science and innovation leader. A country with which we collaborate in industries which are of strategic importance for defence.

All of this is represented to a large degree by Florida itself, with its space and electronics research and industry. Here there is also a strong Cuban community. And we Czechs have a special relationship to Cubans, and the freedom of Cuba means a lot to us. And Cuba is a country of major standing in Latin America.

If we are able to link all these factors together, it will be an opportunity both for business and for freedom. I am here to open doors for these links. As always in the free world, the rest is up to private initiative. My delegation contains representatives of companies who have something to offer in Florida. If they succeed in establishing cooperation with companies from Florida, certainly other companies will follow.

We are a country with a long and successful industrial tradition (industry generates a third of our GDP and jobs), with a broad science and research base. I do believe that the members of my delegation will demonstrate this to you. I also believe that my trip will contribute to broadening industrial and research cooperation between the Czech Republic and Florida. I believe it will support the building of that network of friendly relations which generate new deals and new opportunities. And through this, we each in our own way will contribute to meeting those global responsibilities and strengthening the free world. Because it is possible to conclude individual business deals in the absence of freedom, but without freedom successful long-term business is not possible.

Thank you for your attention!

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