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SOFIA (Bulgaria), July 7 (SeeNews) - Creating a single investment space in the Western Balkans and speeding up reforms will increase the region's appeal to investors, Pierre Heilbronn, vice president in charge of reform and policy dialogue at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), told SeeNews.
As a step towards achieving this goal, the bank will become a strategic partner to a regional chamber of commerce that will bring together the national chambers of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Kosovo. The EBRD’s support will allow the regional chamber of commerce to establish a Permanent Secretariat based in Trieste, which will promote the Western Balkans as a common investment destination.
The bank is also working on a business registry portal connecting the national business registries of the six countries, which it plans to launch in February 2018.
"Progress has been slowing down in the last two or three years and it needs to be reinvigorated [...] because weaknesses are quite serious in the rule of law and in public administration. Also, these countries have to improve corporate governance and the investment climate," Heilbronn said in a phone interview on Wednesday, a week ahead of the Western Balkans Trieste Summit. The summit is part of the Berlin process for the integration of the Western Balkans which the EBRD - a major investor in the region - is actively supporting.
"Some countries are lagging behind and need more reform, more investment impetus, more investments in innovation and upgrading of skills," Heilbronn said.
The region's economic convergence is key to addressing these issues, as it will make youths see economic prospects and growth potential in their home countries, he stressed.
The Western Balkans regional chamber, which will be established at the Trieste summit, and the business registry portal will make life simpler for local and international investors, while at the same time supporting the EU accession effort of the countries from the region.
"This new regional chamber of commerce will build on the knowledge of the countries' chambers of commerce, it will identify obstacles to exchange between these countries and common rules that can be devised, [...] if possible converging with the best rules in the European acquis," Heilbronn said.
The business registry portal would result in transparency and efficiency gains, he commented. At a later stage, it could be expanded to include other countries in the region, as well. Foreign investors will know they are not only investing in one country but that they can operate in the whole region and afterwards also hopefully in neighbouring EU markets such as Bulgaria, Romania, and on core European markets, he added.
Earlier, the EBRD backed SEE Link - a regional platform for trading of securities listed on equity markets in Southeast Europe.
SEE Link, set up in May 2014 by the stock exchanges of Bulgaria, Macedonia and Croatia became fully operational last year, with the Slovenian and Serbian markets joining later on. The EBRD supported the initial phase of the SEE Link project with a 540,000 euro ($603,800) grant to introduce an electronic system for order-routing.
Connectivity - more on the physical side - is also of crucial importance for the EBRD, Heilbronn stressed.
The bank is financing the project for the East -West electricity transmission corridor between Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro and Italy, as well as a number of projects for the construction of key highways in all Western Balkan countries, including the highway between Kosovo's Pristina and Durres in Albania, and the Adriatic highway.
The bank plans to commit a further 200 million euro to transport Corridor Vc provided that the conditions are met, Heilbronn said.
"All these projects are very important and will nourish the serious ambitions that we have to invest 1 billion euro each in the coming years," he said.
Achieving this ambition will depend on progress in reforms, the authorities' pledge for stability and availability of projects, Heilbronn added.
The EBRD has so far invested around 10 billion euro ($11.4 billion) in total across the region.