Hannes Richter

175 Years of Diplomatic Relations

Hannes Richter
175 Years of Diplomatic Relations

Although official diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Austria began in 1838, the relationship between the two countries started decades earlier with the Austrian Empire’s interest in exploring opportunities for trade and commerce in the New World. As history shows, the relationship did not always progress harmoniously. More importantly, however, it did evolve to overcome obstacles of historic impact. Now, 175 years later, the two countries are closely bonded in their pursuit of common goals for a secure and just world. In 1777, Congress appointed William Lee as the first U.S. representative to Vienna. Austria, however, did not receive him, declining to recognize a country that had rebelled against a monarchy.

The Hofkanzlei’s files referred to American officials as “rebels” and “insurgents.” The Empire nonetheless conducted trade in arms with the colonies during the American Revolution, and pursued commercial interests in cotton and tobacco markets. This ambiguity marked the Empire’s position toward the U.S. until the late 19th century. Austria did, however, recognize the United States in 1797 by accepting Conrad Frederick Wagner as U.S. Consul at Trieste. In 1820 an Austrian Consulate was established in New York under the direction of Alois (Lewis) Baron von Lederer.

On December 20, 1825, Secretary of State Henry Clay announced that the United States was ready to conclude a commerce and navigation convention with the Austrian Empire. In 1828 Emperor Francis I instructed Baron von Lederer to negotiate a treaty, leading to formal discussions on trade. The Treaty of Commerce and Navigation between the United States and Austria was signed in Washington, D.C. on August 27, 1829, and entered into force February 10, 1831, after the exchange of ratifications. It remained in force until the U.S. entered World War I. Official diplomatic relations, however, were established with the appointment of Henry A. Muhlenberg as first American Minister to Vienna on February 8, 1838. He presented his credentials November 7, 1838.

The Austrian Empire’s first Minister to the United States, Wenzel Philipp Baron de Mareschal, established an Austrian Legation in Washington, D.C. presenting his credentials October 13, 1838. By 1850 Austria had established 11 honorary Consular Offices mostly along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, focusing mainly on trade in tobacco and cotton. Over time and despite two world wars, the U.S. and Austria built and rebuilt trade relations that prosper today. The U.S. is Austria’s third largest investor. For U.S. companies, Austria represents an attractive and affluent export market. American companies have invested more than $20 billion in Austria and now employ more than 30,000 Austrians; 130 Austrian companies have invested more than $6.9 billion in the U.S. and employ 25,000 Americans. For the U.S. and Austria, trade and investment is a dynamic, continuously expanding two-way street. (Courtesy: U.S. Embassy, Vienna)

Economic relations between U.S. and Austria

Recent figures, due to the recovery of both economies after the financial crisis, are looking quite favorable. The year 2012 saw an increase of 9.4% from 2011 in U.S. exports to Austria; in total, exports amounted to $5.28 billion, while U.S. imports from Austria accounted for $8.89 billion. According to these numbers, the United States are Austria’s fourth largest trading partner overall, and the leading trading partner outside of Europe. In 2012, imports from the United States came from sectors such as machinery, medical devices, pharmaceuticals and chemicals, aircraft and aircraft components, as well as computer equipment and parts.

Austria exported specialized industrial machinery, pharmaceuticals, glassware, electric power machinery and food products to the U.S. Austria serves many U.S. companies as a gateway to Central and Southeastern Europe, and is perceived as a good export market for U.S. technology and services with a geographical advantage, providing access to Eastern Europe. Historically, Austria possesses close cultural and historical relationships with its neighbors. Many companies set up their headquarters for these regions in and around Vienna. Altogether, some 340 U.S. companies have established subsidiaries in the area, contributing to a strong economic network between the two countries. With Austria being a European Union member state and the possibility of a Free Trade Agreement currently negotiated between the United States and the European Union, trade relations between Austria and the U.S. are likely to flourish in the future. Today, the U.S. and the EU are already each other’s top trading partner, covering together nearly half of the world output and a third of all trade.