4 February 2005
Serbia courts Greek investors
A high-profile investment conference next week brings Greek and Serbia economic relations centre stage Serbian President Boris Tadic will kick off an event designed to enhance investment initiatives between Greece and Serbia, on February 8-11
By Elaine Green
Industrialists are flagging up Serb-Greek investment conference due next week as one of the most important drives in economic relations between Serbia & Montenegro and Greece in recent years.
Serbia is determined to attract foreign investment as part of moves to boost economic recovery, organisers of the Partnership Initiative Conference said on February 2. The four-day event kicks off in Athens on February 8 and is targeting top Greek firms in banking, mining, the food industry, the retail sector, information technology and the construction sector, conference organiser Alaxandros Costopoulos told the Athens News.
"The key issue is that for the first time every organisation and government authority, along with the most prominent corporate players from both countries, are working together on common strategic objectives to create productive synergies that reflect the economic challenges and opportunities of both nations. Serbia offers Greek companies a unique advantage as well as like-minded professionals with a western mentality," Costopoulos added.
The initiative is well timed, given Alpha Bank's current buy of Serbia's Jubanka and the launch of the first of a series of further banking privatisations (see opposite). The event has attracted sponsorship from big names such as Coca-Cola, which last year tried and failed to acquire Serbia's mineral water player Knjaz Milos, the majority of which was recently bought by UK-registered FPP Balkan. Other conference sponsors include banking giant EFG Eurobank, the Greek Federation of Industries (SEB), the National Bank of Greece, Motorola and OPAP.
Serbian President Boris Tadic will inaugurate the event, whilst welcoming remarks will be made by Crown Prince Alexander of Serbia and Greece's minister of development, Dimitris Sioufas. Serbian Minister of Capital Investments Velimir Ilic will spell out the programme of privatisations for the coming two-year period, Costopoulos added. Numerous other Greek and Serbian cabinet ministers are slated to speak at the event, including Greece's minister of tourism, Dimitris Avramopoulos.
Ambassador Dusan Batakovic said that the initiative "offers a major opportunity for local companies and entrepreneurs to further expand Greece's already impressive presence". The conference is intended to be a two-way process with Serbian firms also gaining the opportunity to see what Greece can offer.
Alison Andrews, president of the World Council of Hellenes Abroad said:
"Initiatives such as this, which allow Greece, Serbia and Montenegro to develop their economies can only increase their natural leadership role in the region and benefit their residents."
Current investments in Serbia-Montenegro by Greek firms are estimated at almost 1 billion euros, with banking, foodstuffs and petroleum product dealers making up the biggest slice of this investment. "Greece is the fourth largest investor after the US, Germany and Italy," Costopoulos told this newspaper.
The conference is being organised by Lifeline Hellas, a humanitarian organisation that is under the auspices of Crown Princess Katherine. The event has been planned in conjunction with Greece's development ministry and Serbia's ministry of international economic relations.
"Jobs and opportunities bring stability to the entire region and a better future," both Alexander and Greek-born Katherine said. The couple's daughter, who likes to be known simply as Alison Andrews, told this newspaper that the charity was keen not merely to raise traditional humanitarian aid but also to attract real investments in Serbia's economy and infrastructure that would make a lasting difference in the once war-torn country. She added that banking, insurance, real estate and manufacturing firms would be particularly welcome to invest.
"We need companies with an innovative, dynamic approach," she added. "Greece has shown the world what a good organiser it is through its hosting of the Olympics. If it can show the same enthusiasm in helping rebuild Serbia, it would be a great achievement," she said.
Asked about the mortgage sector, Allison Andrews said that most Serbs do not yet own their own homes but are keen to do so. "Greek banks with their knowledge of the mortgage sector would find Serbia an opportunity for tremendous growth, as well as helping to boost the economy through such initiatives," she added.
Serbia is a haven for investment and looks to be Europe's new "tiger", topping Ireland's tax rate of 12.5 percent with the lowest corporate rate in Europe at 10 percent, as well as numerous other tax and investment incentives.
However, Miloje Kanjevac from Serbia's think-tank Institute for Market Research (IZIT) said in Belgrade on February 2 that whilst positive trends in 2004 show a rise in Serbia's industrial production, and visible increase in citizens' purchasing power, there were a number of negative trends. He cited these as being a weakening of foreign trade, the structure of money supply, solvency of the economy, bank loans, and fiscal burden on the economy. Also, the failure to meet the 8.5 percent inflation target in 2004 was mainly due to Serbia's high public spending and growing prices in energy, agricultural products, food, and services. Investment is much needed but these factors therefore remain obstacles, he noted.
The Partnership Initiative Conference takes place at the Hilton on February 8-10 and offers a one-day programme in Belgrade on February 11. A full programme as well as links to support letters can be found on the event's website at www.partnershipinitiative.gr
or by telephoning 210-363-4570.
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