Interview with Stephen Brugger, Executive Director, American Chamber of Commerce in Denmark

Interview with Stephen Brugger, Executive Director, American Chamber of Commerce in Denmark

BF: Denmark and the US have long enjoyed a close and mutually beneficial relationship. How has the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in Denmark actively contributed to fostering and strengthening ties between Danish and American businesses?

Stephen Brugger: AmCham is a non-profit non-governmental business organization representing 230 companies that are actively investing in Denmark and the US. Since our establishment in 1999, AmCham has been working closely with the Danish government to improve framework conditions for US investments into Denmark, as well as assisting Danish companies investing in the US with unique market insight and connections to the US government.


BF: In 2022, Denmark exported goods and services worth approximately $13.2 billion to the US. What measurable impact has AmCham Denmark had on trade and investment between the two countries?

Stephen Brugger: The Danish success story in the US is probably second to none. Since 2010, the US market has grown steadily in importance for Denmark —going from its sixth-largest market in 2010 to surpassing Germany in 2019 as Denmark’s largest export market. Although we can’t claim full credit, I’m proud that AmCham has been part of that journey. Denmark has a long tradition of international trade, but in the late 1990s the US market was still a huge challenge for Danish companies, hampered by several ill-fated attempts at entering the US market. Thanks to the efforts of the Danish Trade Council, the Danish Embassy in Washington DC and the Danish consulates, the US is no longer such a challenge for Danish companies. What AmCham brought to the table was international thought leadership and a US-Danish business network — helping Danish companies exchange knowledge and best practices.


BF: In August, the Danish multinational energy company Orsted announced that it may see negative impacts of up to $2.3 billion on its US offshore developments due to supply chain problems, soaring interest rates and a lack of new tax credits. How can institutions such as AmCham Denmark help Danish companies tackle these types of hurdles in the US business landscape?

Stephen Brugger: Just by keeping the dialogue open and making sure that the governments on both sides of the Atlantic understand the issues and long-term challenges that companies face. Since COVID-19, the markets have completely changed.  A lot of projects like this were being discussed and planned long before the pandemic. Suddenly, the foundations are being pretty much ripped out from underneath them. There needs to be cooperation between the government and the private sector to create an understanding — trying not to let these things happen, but when they do happen, making sure we get the right policies in place to help companies get through these challenges.


BF: In what ways does AmCham Denmark support business growth and innovation within the Danish business landscape?

Stephen Brugger: First and foremost, AmCham has made it its mission to communicate the importance of foreign investments in Denmark. Although foreign-owned companies represent about 6% of all Danish companies, they create more than 20% of private-sector jobs and are responsible for 27% of Danish exports. Furthermore, foreign companies bring with them significant productivity gains and innovative practices, which are inevitably transferred to Danish companies. Since 2005, AmCham has been surveying foreign companies in Denmark to identify key issues impacting their investments here. This information is, in turn, discussed at an annual Foreign Investment Summit where we highlight policy recommendations for the Danish government, which are aimed at improving investment framework conditions. One of the key issues that is always at the top of AmCham’s policy agenda is improving Denmark’s ability to attract and retain talent — an issue that we first raised back in 2007 and have helped made steady progress on.


BF: For some years now, Danish companies have taken a global lead in green technologies. Could you elaborate on how AmCham Denmark has helped to foster technological advancements within Danish industries?

Stephen Brugger: One example I would like to note is a project that we launched in 2012 with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, shortly after we’d hosted COP15 in Denmark. Our ambassador at the time worked with AmCham and the Confederation of Danish Industries to launch what we coined “green partnerships for growth,” which was launched by our Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and Secretary Clinton. This became a three-year project, which demonstrates the strength of what you can do with public-private partnerships.


BF: How does AmCham Denmark facilitate collaborations with American businesses to ensure mutual growth and prosperity for both Danish and American companies?

Stephen Brugger: An example of a highly successful collaboration was this year’s SelectUSA Summit, where US Ambassador Alan Leventhal and Danish Minister for Business Morten Bødskov jointly lead a delegation of 22 Danish companies to Washington DC to facilitate new partnerships and help Danish companies capitalize on the US Inflation Reduction Act. Additionally, we work very closely with Copenhagen Capacity (CopCap), Invest in Denmark and the US and Danish embassies, where we have ongoing discussions and projects targeting companies investing in Denmark and the US.

A good company example would be Shark Solutions. It came up with a unique process for recycling automobile windshield glass, which if it is put into landfill, never goes away. It has developed a process of separating that glass, reusing it and repurposing it into carpets and all kinds of other products. It has had great success in the US market and we’re proud that we could assist them into that market.


BF: What is the vision of AmCham Denmark for the future of Danish-American business relations? How do you plan to further enhance and strengthen ties in the coming years?

Stephen Brugger: It’s about continuing on the path that we have set to help Danish companies succeed in the United States, as well as attracting new US investments into Denmark. Not just greenfield investments, but also helping companies that are here to expand and attract further investments from their global headquarters. If you take the life science industry here, you’ve got great clinical trials going on as we have excellent health data — and making this a driver of growing companies that are already here is essential. That’s our main vision.

In terms of our long-term goals, we will never stop talking about the importance of the transatlantic relationship. I don’t think Americans or Europeans in general truly understand or appreciate the importance of transatlantic trade. Under the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP), we talked it to death. It was dead on arrival because we wanted it to be so robust and so deep instead of just getting it done. Now that’s gone, and we have to figure out what the next step is in transatlantic trade. We do need a free trade agreement between the US and Europe, and we need to have new leaders that will embrace that and bring us closer.


BF: Is there anything that you would like to add?

Stephen Brugger: There are a couple of things I would like to highlight about Danish companies’ success and Denmark’s success as a whole. First off, since I studied in Denmark back in 1981, Denmark has become truly international. As a small homogeneous country, globalization has been instrumental to Denmark’s success — and there’s an understanding among the Danish people that globalization is a good thing.

Secondly, in Denmark there is a fundamental trust in government that allows Denmark to manage even the most difficult challenges — including the COVID-19 pandemic. This creates a very functional country with stable political conditions for investments.

Thirdly, Denmark has a very unique business foundation structure for Danish companies. Most large Danish companies like Novo Nordisk, Carlsberg, Lego, Maersk and so on are owned by foundations, which means nobody can buy them. That’s a reason why you still have these amazing companies in Denmark, which has been key to Denmark’s economic success and an important contributor to Danish society.

On the sustainability side, I want to just mention one more thing: Denmark’s unique position as a trial ground and a showcase for innovative solutions. For example, McDonald’s in Denmark and the Nordics is using this opportunity to lead the way for McDonald’s globally in reducing its environmental footprint.

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