I am very pleased to share my thoughts on the special relationship between Bosnia and Herzegovina and the state of Maryland. This relationship began in 2003 under the official auspices of the National Guard State Partnership Program with the Maryland National Guard and is now developing into a multidimensional, whole-of-government partnership supported by both the office of Gov. Martin O'Malley and the presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
On March 22-24 I will be heading an official delegation to Maryland for the upcoming U.S.-Balkans Business Summit at the University of Baltimore. As the first bilateral trade and investment summit among the United States and the countries of the western Balkans, I look forward to visiting Maryland and hope to open a new chapter of mutually beneficial bilateral exchanges.
We look at Maryland as a gateway through which businesses from Bosnia and Herzegovina can enter the United States marketplace. We believe that Maryland businesses will similarly come to view Bosnia and Herzegovina as an entry point into the Southeast European market. Just as Maryland is a logical gateway to the rest of the United States, Bosnia and Herzegovina is a logical gateway to this growing, dynamic and lucrative market.
Unfortunately, many Americans still perceive Bosnia and Herzegovina as an unstable and dangerous place, even though we have been at peace for more than 15 years. This misperception often acts as a central, yet artificial, barrier to American trade and investment, to the detriment of both our peoples.
Nevertheless, Bosnia and Herzegovina is open for business. The mistaken view that my country is still riddled by instability has meant that American businesses remain vastly underrepresented in Bosnia and Herzegovina. But the lack of market penetration by international firms means that intrepid American businesses have a tremendous opportunity to get in "on the ground floor."
Our partnership with Maryland and the Maryland National Guard has been a notable success story. Since 2003, we have conducted more than 200 joint events in Maryland and in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Some highlights include: bringing a group of Maryland National Guard officers to Bosnia and Herzegovina to serve as impartial observers during the destruction of excess weapons stockpiles; having senior public affairs professionals from Bosnia and Herzegovina work alongside their counterparts in the Maryland Guard and Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) during the recent Vigilant Guard emergency response exercise in Baltimore; and the participation of MEMA and Maryland Guard personnel in helping Bosnia and Herzegovina prepare to host the international civil-military exercise MEDCEUR in 2012.
These are only a few examples among many events that have seen hundreds of soldiers and government officials from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Maryland come together to share best practices and build professional relationships that will bear fruit on both sides of the Atlantic well into the future. Indeed, the real-world dividends of this partnership were apparent when the armed forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina ably responded to widespread flooding across our country last fall.
Prior to the business summit, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Maryland will sign an agreement that will pave the way for the establishment of the first-ever foreign liaison officer position between a U.S. state and its partner nation. This officer of the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina will work on the staff of the Maryland Adjutant General and serve as an important conduit for continued military cooperation between my country and Maryland. Beyond the military arena, this officer will assist Maryland public and private institutions in building closer ties with their counterparts in Bosnia and Herzegovina in areas of mutual interest like education, economic development and health care. This concept builds on Governor O'Malley's visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2009, during which we discussed mutually beneficial economic opportunities and how we can grow this partnership and help it to expand beyond the military realm.
The U.S.-Balkans Business Summit, which begins here in Baltimore on March 23, marks the next big step in Bosnia and Herzegovina's growing relationship with the citizens and institutions of Maryland. Since its inception in 2003 we have embraced this partnership as an opportunity to enrich the lives of the citizens of both Maryland and Bosnia and Herzegovina. I know from our history of productive exchanges with Maryland that the future potential of this partnership is limited only by the bounds of our creativity and goodwill.
President Bakir Izetbegovic is a member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina.