Q&A with Kurt Jaeger, Liechtenstein's New Ambassador to the US

On September 16 Kurt Jaeger met with US President Barack Obama at the White House to present his diplomatic credentials officially making him Ambassador of Liechtenstein to the United States of America.

Ambassador Jaeger comes to Washington after six years as Liechtenstein's Ambassador to the European Union and Belgium. From 2005-2010 he was elected as one of three members of the Board of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) Surveillance Authority in charge of monitoring and enforcing the application of EU law in the European Economic Area (EEA) by the three EFTA States Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway. Prior to those posts he spent 15 years in the airline industry and civil aviation administration. He has law degrees from the University of Fribourg, Switzerland and McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

Q&A with Ambassador Jaeger

How are you enjoying Washington so far? What has been your primary focus during the short time you've been here?

I arrived at the beginning of August along with my wife Laurette and son Fabian. Since August is a relative quiet period of time in DC we spent it getting situated in our new home and environment. I can tell you right now that the climate in DC is much different than in Brussels! While the heat took some getting used to, I haven't had so much sun like this summer in years. It was also a good opportunity to get to know DC better and visit some of the city's great sites and neighborhoods. The summer weeks were a good time to sit in my office and go through the many files and briefings to bring myself up to par on various bilateral issues and topics while also getting oriented with my new staff. I've been particularly focused on learning more about and better understanding major topics affecting US politics. Of course right now it's all about the upcoming elections. It's been very interesting to learn at a more on-the-ground and grassroots level what issues Americans are focused on, not only nationally but at the state and local levels. It's been fascinating to begin getting more acquainted with the great diversity of the US and I look forward to presenting my country and its interests to them and building on the many good partnerships and relationships we have. Though both countries differ tremendously in size, we have many mutual interests and common values.

You have a deep background in trade issues having been Liechtenstein’s Ambassador to the EU and having worked for the EFTA Surveillance Authority. How important is trade with the US for Liechtenstein? Do you see any areas for growth?

The US is Liechtenstein's second largest bilateral trading partner after Germany. As Liechtenstein is an export-oriented economy, the US is an important economic partner. Many people don't realize that the largest contributor to our economy is manufacturing at 40% of the GDP. Though we are a country of roughly 37,000 people we conduct about a billion dollars of commerce with the US every year and our companies employ close to 4000 people in the US. That might not sound like much, but it's the equivalent of around 10% of our population and we are very proud of this. We like to say that on a per-capita basis Liechtenstein is probably the if not the highest foreign employer in the US! Liechtenstein companies based in the US play vital roles in the supply chain of goods in sectors such as construction, automotive, coating, audio-visual, dentistry and more. They are leaders in their respective fields and are a highly value-added partner for many major US companies and markets.

As for growth, we are always looking for opportunities to widen avenues for investment in the US. My focus will be to not only secure opportunities to grow Liechtenstein's economic footprint in the US, but to showcase Liechtenstein as a location for US companies who are looking to enter the European market. Liechtenstein is a unique business location. Though it is not a member of the EU, through its participation in the European Economic Area (EEA) Agreement it has direct access to the EU's Single Market and through a customs union with Switzerland, open access to that market as well. Liechtenstein is located in a growing technology corridor in the Central Alpine region with a great pool of people highly trained in technical services.

Though there is a mix of optimism and skepticism as to the future of the negotiations between the US and EU for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, as a non-EU member in the heart of Europe how could TTIP affect Liechtenstein?

If TTIP as envisioned were to ever come about, it would greatly impact the Liechtenstein economy. As a member of the EEA, which consists of all members of the EU plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway, we must adopt all EU rules pertaining to free movement of goods, services, persons and capital. Should TTIP result in changes to these regulations, Liechtenstein would have to adopt them but would not be granted added access to the US market through TTIP. In addition, as the EU's Single Market is Liechtenstein's largest trading area, it is greatly impacted by any shifts in the European economy. So we view the negotiations with great interest.

Liechtenstein is also a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) which consists of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Together we form a trade bloc with numerous trade agreements around the world. As a group we are the 7th highest global trader in commercial services and 12th in trade in merchandise. As economies that are highly integrated into the European Single Market and play important roles in the transatlantic market and supply chain of goods, TTIP could have potential game-changing elements affecting this complex relationship. EFTA has therefore created a Trade Policy Dialogue with the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to better understand how our more recent, respective free trade agreements are being formulated, where the TTIP negotiations are moving and how a final TTIP agreement could incorporate EFTA.

Do you have any plans to go beyond the DC beltway and experience the greater US?

Absolutely! One of the best pieces of advice I got from my predecessor, Ambassador Claudia Fritsche, was how essential it is to see as much of the US as possible. This is the only way to get a true understanding of the American people.

About 10 years ago Liechtenstein founded a network of Honorary Consulates throughout the US, which now has bases in LA, Chicago, Atlanta and Boston. I plan to visit all of them in the near future. As they also represent neighboring states and regions I plan to canvas as many destinations as I can. In addition, as previously noted, Liechtenstein companies are located throughout the US. It will be important to visit them to not only better acquaint myself with their business presence in the US but how they are impacting their communities. Not only are they providing jobs to thousands of Americans but also opportunities for continuing education for current and future employees. They also work with US universities to provide training and apprenticeships, as well as contributing to programs such as Habitat for Humanity, the American Red Cross, and educational programs for local schools.

You’re known among your colleagues and friends as quite the wine aficionado. Any American wines and regions that you are a fan of? When you’re home in Liechtenstein what are you drinking?

Indulging in wine culture does indeed provide wonderful opportunities to discover the history, culture, geography, gastronomy of many regions in the world without necessarily even being there. The most captivating aspect of wine, however, is its strong social dimension: Sharing a bottle of good wine with others helps deepen human relations. Among the American wines I have only recently learned to truly appreciate are the Rhône-style white wines from California and the red wines from Oregon and Washington State. Right now, for instance, my favorite Pinot Noir from the US is from Freeman in the Russian River Valley in California. Among the whites I have been seduced by are Favia’s Viognier from the Amador County in the Sierra Nevada foothills and Sixto’s Chardonnay from the Washington Roza Hills. When I’m back home, I of course drink the local wines from Liechtenstein and the neighboring Swiss wine region of the Grisons, which unfortunately are very difficult to get here in the US. But I also have a particular weakness for wines from Italy. Since my wife is Italian, wines of Italy are an area where it is safe to say that we are nearly always in agreement.

To learn more about Ambassador Jaeger's background, view his full CV here.

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