Czech foreign minister concludes week-long US visit

Karel Schwarzenberg et Hillary Clinton, photo: CTK

The Czech foreign minister, Karel Schwarzenberg is winding up his week-long trip to the United States. At a meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington on Thursday, the officials agreed to start negotiations on a new investments protection treaty between the two countries. Mr Schwarzenberg, with a number of Czech entrepreneurs in his entourage, also promoted Czech IT and film industries during his US trip.

Karel Schwarzenberg in Ennis, Texas, photo: CTK
The band Czechaholics were all the rage at this year’s polka festival in Ennis, Texas on Saturday. The small town with a large Czech minority was the first stop on Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg’s trip across the United States. After decorating several US WWII veterans who took part in the liberation of Czechoslovakia, Mr Schwarzenberg mingled with the local Czechs.

“It’s great,” Mr Schwarzenberg said, adding that it was both funny and very touching when people came to him and to say which Czech village their grandmother or grandfather came from.

The highlight of the trip came later when Mr Schwarzenberg met with US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton in Washington on Thursday. The Czechs have for quite some time tried to get the US government to renegotiate the investments protection treaty between the two countries. Czech officials feel the treaty gives US investors too much power, and in effect has led to a series of arbitrations that cost the country billions of crowns. After their meeting, Ms Clinton announced that Czech efforts had come to fruition and negotiations on the new agreement would start in September.

Karel Schwarzenberg, Hillary Clinton, photo: CTK
“It is the intention of Minister Schwarzenberg and myself that negotiations begin in September and move as quickly as possible. I regret that we’ve not been able to reach an agreement for ten years with one of our closest friends, partners and allies. But we are going to drive this process forward, and I’m putting everybody on notice, both in the State Department and in the rest of the US government. This is a very high priority.”

Getting the US to agree to this was no easy task, according to commentator Daniel Anýž who was covering the visit for a leading Czech daily Hospodářské noviny. The change only came after Czech Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek earlier this year reportedly threatened to withdraw from the current agreement. Over the phone from the US, Mr Anýž says the deal marks a reset in Czech-US relations after they were for years dominated by missile defence.

“It was perhaps a bit uncomfortable for Czech diplomats. With the [US missile defence] radar issue off the table, they wanted to base the new relations more on economy. And exactly at the same time, the problem [of renegotiating the investment protection treaty] came up. But the Czech foreign ministry probably decided to pursue the strategy of the finance minister.”

Tomáš Čupr
Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg brought with him several Czech businesspeople from the IT and film industries. In Hollywood, the Czechs met with people form some the industry’s heavyweights like Sony, 20th Century Fox and Warner Brothers, advertising incentives for film productions the Czech government re-introduced last year. And in Silicon Valley, Czech IT entrepreneurs had a chance to visit some of the world’s largest hi-tech corporations. One of them was Tomáš Čupr, the founder of Slevomat, the Czech Republic’s largest discount website.

“I got several valuable contacts for Slevomat, my business, and I also got valuable contacts for myself because Slevomat is not my last business. So when I’m starting up next time, I’m definitely going to go to San Francisco and either raise some venture capital or at least get some feedback from experienced people because the way people think here is very different.”

The Czech foreign minister is set to meet more Czech expats in New York City on Friday before returning to the Czech Republic.