Ambassador Randi Charno Levine Remarks at AmCham Dinner

(As prepared)

Your Excellency, Mr. President and advisors,

American Chamber of Commerce in Portugal, President and Directors,

Ambassador from the Ukraine,

Representatives from the Municipal and National governments,

American and Portuguese business owners and executives 

Friends and colleagues.

Good evening!

It is a pleasure to share this lovely evening with all of you – and a special shout out to Antonio, Graça and team for orchestrating this beautiful event. 

It is hard to believe that it has been a little over two months since my husband, Jeff, and I arrived in Portugal; it truly has been a whirlwind and one of the most exciting experiences of our lives. 

From the moment I entered the Presidential palace to present my credentials and Mr. President – you opened your arms and said “finally!!” Jeff and I have enjoyed the warm welcome and hospitality of the Portuguese people. Mr. President – during our time together, including a truly extraordinary dinner at Time Out Market where I took my first “Marselfie” -we have discussed our shared vision for a stronger and more prosperous future for our children and grandchildren.

And this vision of course focuses on all of you – the businesses represented here tonight. Antonio – you have already become a friend and partner in my short time here.

And connecting to AmCham and the business community will continue to be a top priority as we work together to grow trade and enhance prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic.

My service here as ambassador follows our family’s longstanding commitment to the community. I am a passionate arts advocate and supporter of using people-to-people exchanges to advance diplomacy. Most importantly, I have been a partner alongside my husband Jeff as we built a successful business from the ground up – a business based on mutual respect, strong communication and shared values. 

On behalf of the United States, my goal is to use those guidelines to build more commercial partnerships that will advance our mutual interests and enrich our bilateral relationship.

Two weeks ago, I returned from my first official visit back to Washington to attend the Standing Bilateral Commission, the formal meetings of the Portuguese and American delegations that take place twice a year.  

During the bilateral talks which jointly addressed security cooperation, our economic / commercial relationship, and climate goals we again reaffirmed our lasting commitment to one other and crafted a path forward. 

It will be my great honor to lead the way with my counterpart in Washington, my new friend Ambassador Francisco Duarte Lopes. 

I also took this opportunity to connect with leadership from The Departments of Commerce and Treasury to share my commitment and vision for expanding business development for our two countries.

Of course, we are all operating in every-changing times, with global events causing challenging ripples across various sectors like energy and supply chains.

 During these times we are forced to stay nimble and need the creativity and open dialogue with the business community more than ever.

As always, our thoughts and prayers are with the Ukrainian people who are suffering due to Russia’s unprovoked aggression against Ukraine.  This is not just a localized conflict because we are also seeing a growing global food crisis.  

Portugal has also shown its generous spirit by welcoming with open arms tens of thousands of refugees and supporting Ukraine with defense and humanitarian aid. 

How fortunate I feel to be representing America here, in a country that reflects our shared democratic values and embraces free and open markets.

And of course, the pandemic continues to linger. Covid has had a profound impact on the economy, which has affected us all.

I congratulate you Mr. President and your government for your leadership in vaccination and Covid mitigation – I believe it is the perfect example of Portuguese creativity, ingenuity, and organization.

June is a busy month for celebration in both Portugal and America – highlighted by your Portuguese National Day celebration and Pride – when we celebrate the LGBTQ community and its right to live freely and without prejudice.  Yesterday the US celebrated Juneteenth, recognizing the day that African-American slaves gained their freedom.  

DEIA – Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility – is extremely important to this administration and to me and the Mission I lead.

Here in Portugal, there are around 25 female ambassadors, one of the strongest representations globally. And as only the 2nd woman to serve as U.S. ambassador to Portugal, I am a direct beneficiary of these policies.  And of course, a big congratulations to the Portuguese government as they work towards achieving gender parity at the highest levels of leadership. 

AmCham recently announced the establishment of a Diversity and Inclusion Committee to advance these ideals and work with us towards a greater representation of gender, ethnic, and racial diversity in business leadership.  Congratulations, and thank you to AmCham and the businesses you represent.

I am proud to share that together with AmCham we welcomed the first official U.S. government trade mission to Portugal in recent memory-a delegation comprised of minority-owned small business representing the diversity, cultural richness, and very best of the United States.  I had the pleasure of visiting this delegation at FLAD and watch the magic happen – as we organized more than 80 meetings with local Portuguese companies which will lead to commercial agreements and increased trade ties across the Atlantic.

The minority delegation event coincided with ARCO Lisboa, Portugal’s premier contemporary arts festival that features a unique and diverse group of international artists. We all watched the decline of the creative economy throughout the pandemic and have come to understand its importance in our lives both economically and socially – from art institutions to fashion, theater, music and of course tourism. 

Exchange in the creative economy will continue to remain a focus as we strengthen our bilateral partnerships.  

I believe that Portugal is the ideal place for U.S. businesses. So many U.S. businesses are already an indistinguishable part of the Portuguese community, creating jobs, supporting innovation, and fostering economic prosperity. 

 You chose Portugal because it offers extraordinary opportunity – which American companies like Accenture, AON, Boyden, Deloitte, Delta, Microsoft, and other leading businesses have recognized. As a port country that is the gateway to Europe in so many ways, Portugal offers companies the opportunity to grow their businesses and help increase prosperity for folks on both sides of the Atlantic.  

As I shared way back when I gave my Senate testimony, developing close ties to the business community here is one of my highest priorities as Ambassador. This means expanding our focus to include not only Lisbon but a whole of country approach.

 I recently traveled to the Azores and saw firsthand the focus on growing tourism, supported by the first transatlantic direct flights by an American air carrier. And I had the honor of meeting with a wide range of business leaders during my visit to Porto. Establishing strong ties with these business communities will continue to be a focus of my work both with the Embassy and AmCham. And we are excited to be working on a second trade mission this year which will bring women technology executives to Portugal during the Web Summit -another first in our portfolio. 

The Portuguese economy has shown itself to be incredibly resilient and I am so happy to share that U.S. – Portugal trade has rebounded significantly, with two-way merchandise trade increasing nearly 20 percent above pre-pandemic levels. 

Just as importantly, we have seen Portugal’s “Unicorns” look to the United States for funding as well as expansion.  I am proud that U.S. investment in Portugal is the most significant outside of Europe – our companies in Portugal create jobs, fuel innovation, and become fully integrated into your communities. 

I was with Prime Minister Costa and the Minister of Infrastructure last month at the launch of Google’s Equiano undersea cable; yet another example of the benefits of the United States and Portugal partnering in infrastructure and the digital space.  

As someone who prides myself on being a connector, I recognize that improved connectivity and access to digital technologies provide significant economic and social benefits and are key enablers of sustainable development. 

Economies that successfully manage the digital transition will have a distinct advantage. We must focus on partnering with trusted vendors based in countries with due process and respect for the rule of law in order to build secure communication networks. 

 As we have seen in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we must not allow autocratic regimes to dominate our sensitive sectors, including of course data and internet access.  

Just like 5G networks, undersea cables, and other critical infrastructure are important to our overall security.  It is to our benefit, especially as NATO allies, to ensure the free flow of information and support reasonable data regulations that do not unintentionally discriminate against American companies. 

So many of us will be participating in the UN Oceans Conference that will take place here in Lisbon next week. As an Atlanticist country whose largest border is the ocean, we are proud that Portugal is cohosting this event. The U.S. government will bring a fifty (50) person delegation from the U.S. executive branch, led by Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, in addition to a large congressional delegation.  

As neighbors on both sides of the Atlantic, we recognize that the ocean is our common lifeline – for security, climate stabilization and clean energy. 

Of course, the blue economy and energy will generate important discussions at UN Oceans Conference.

 Later this week I will meet with CEOs of REN, EDP, and GALP to gain a private sector perspective on the energy market and how the U.S. can help contribute to European energy security. I hope to do roundtable discussions like this across many sectors and look forward to meeting many of you and gaining perspective on the best ways to strengthen US-Portugal business alliances.

I for one am optimistic for the future. So many U.S. companies have operated here through thick and thin for more than twenty (20) years, continually investing in Portugal.   Portugal has an opportunity to be a major European hub for digital investments by leading through innovation, streamlining regulation, and creating a business environment that attracts new companies. 

We will continue to work together on challenges and help create a healthier, more stable, productive and prosperous world for future generations. On behalf of the US, I look forward to working side by side with all of you in the years to come. Thank you.