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Croatia and Romania seek to expand business ties

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By Cristian Cojanu
Their geographical proximity and similar views on most international issues provide Croatia and Romania a solid basis to build on stronger bilateral ties. In an interview with Business Arena, His Excellency Davor Vidiš, Ambassador of the Republic of Croatia to Bucharest, spoke about the Embassy's role in developing relations between the two countries and emphasized the major potential for increased economic cooperation.
How would you characterize the economic, political and cultural relations between Croatia and Romania? 
Political, economic and cultural relations between the Republic of Croatia and Romania are very good and friendly, and they are developing further. Both countries had to go through long European Union and NATO integration processes, they faced transition periods and saw changes in their systems, social norms, and systems of values. Now, when all of those challenges are behind us, we can focus our efforts on our bilateral relations. In the past, we used to build our relations on mutual assistance, exchanging experience on integration processes, and in various regional forums and initiatives. Now, as mature members of the European Union and NATO, we are building relations based on partnership and solidarity. The future high-level visits will consolidate that trend. President Iohannis’ decision to choose Croatia for one of his first official visits is a sign of mutual appreciation.
What areas of bilateral cooperation need improvement and what specific measures can the embassy take in order to address those issues?
First of all, I would like to see a closer economic cooperation. Both countries have focused on their traditional partners in Western Europe, forgetting, as it were, that we are almost neighbors. There is also tourism, and Romanians are slowly discovering Croatia’s tourist destinations. The number of Romanian tourists visiting the Croatian costal regions has been growing every year. In addition, it is obvious that in the current international context we should consolidate our bilateral cooperation in the area of security as well as our common policies within the European Union. As an active component of economic diplomacy, the embassy has been involved in a number of projects, but the most important aspect is the facilitation of links between people and between companies. Of course, with each high-level visit, the economy is gaining an increasingly important role on the agenda. We are also planning to organize an economic forum next year.      

What is the number of Croatian-owned companies registered in Romania?
There are not many Croatian-owned companies in Romania. One of our large companies, Podravka, has a subsidiary in Bucharest, but, of course, there are quite a few small and medium-sized companies involved in various projects in this market. There are also Croatian companies that are active in parts production for the automotive industry.   
What is the total volume of Croatian investment in Romania and which sectors of the economy have attracted the largest Croatian investments so far?
As Croatia is a relatively small country, so are, for the most part, the capital investments of its companies. Even so,
we feel that Croatian companies are investing via the “back door”, with services and equipment, and thus they are present on this market.  

What was the trade volume between Croatia and Romania last year, and what were the main Croatian exports to Romania?
What were Croatia’s main imports from Romania?

The total bilateral trade volume stood at around 270 million Euro last year, with Croatia exporting fertilizers, agricultural products and automotive parts, while its main imports from Romania being agricultural products. The volume of trade is not that big, but it’s encouraging that we have had a positive trend. Our bilateral exchanges have seen double-digit growth.
How would you characterize Romania’s business environment and what are the main hurdles facing Croatian business people in this country? 
Romania has good economic prospects, with a steady growth trend, which is encouraging for entrepreneurs to enter this market. However, Croatian business people have been more or less absent from this market due to a lack of adequate knowledge about the country, its size and opportunities. With the advancement of globalization and shrinking distances, Croatian business people have shown increased interest for Romania. When they come to this market, Croatian business people face the same challenges all the other foreign companies have to deal with. But just like Croatia, Romania’s business environment has improved, requirements are simpler and they are easier to comply with. Therefore, I believe that Romania is a country with excellent economic prospects. And, indeed, its macro-economic indicators prove that theory.       
What new sectors have potential to generate more business between Croatia and Romania in the current economic background?
It’s a well-known fact that we live in a world without frontiers and with new technologies, which generates great opportunities in the IT sector. We see the possibility of a better and more intense cooperation in that sector, because this industry does not discriminate between large and small countries and it knows no borders, as it develops through innovation. This sector is already famous in the Republic of Croatia, as is in Romania, and the general opinion is that it will continue to develop strongly. We already have a large number of such concrete examples of cooperation.  
How can your office help Croatian investors find new business opportunities in this country?
The Embassy of the Republic of Croatia to Bucharest sends out information about the economic, investment and business opportunities in Romania on a daily basis. Our office offers support for the creation of new contacts and provides logistic support to companies interested in entering the Romanian market. 
What kind of support can your office provide to Romanian businesses and investors who may be interested in doing business and investing in Croatia?
Entrepreneurs who want to do business and invest in Croatia are put into contact with the relevant institutions in Croatia, and we provide the necessary information regarding possible cooperation prospects.
Earlier this year, the EU Migration Commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos, was quoted as saying that the refugee crisis was jeopardizing “the very core of the European Union”. Would you agree with such an opinion? What is your country’s stance on the refugee crisis?   
I would put that statement in the current context in the European Union. It’s a time when certain values that we have taken for granted are being revised, which is not necessary a bad thing. There is also the referendum to decide whether Britain should leave or remain in the European Union, and we all wonder to what extent we need Europe: more or less. Each country has its own points of view and opinions are diverse. The refugee crisis is a consequence of bad situations in certain parts of the world, which unfortunately are expanding every day. Croatia was on the refugee route, and we succeeded in treating those people in need with dignity, providing for their basic needs, with food, medical supplies and transportation.
We vividly remember the similar situation in our country 25 years ago. Unfortunately, the refugee crisis is needlessly linked to other problems such as terrorism and rela­tions with Islamic communities. Croatia respects the Islamic community, and it has recently celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Islamic Community in Croatia. This com­mu­nity is an integral part of the Croatian society. They live with us, not beside us. We will never forget their assistance in our hour of need.      
What are your main objectives in 2016?
We have a number of concrete projects lined up until the end of the year, with ministerial visits, presentations of economic cooperation opportunities, and cultural projects such as the Croatian film week. We also have a permanent cooperation with the Croatian community in Resita area, which I have visited many times. This month we celebrate 25 years since the creation of the Croatian state, and we will mark the event in a special festivity. 
What would you like to have achieved by the end of your mandate here?
Improving economic cooperation and trade are the two main priorities for the Croatian diplomacy. We belong to the same general region, Southeastern Europe, and our opinions only differ on the issue of Kosovo. I also believe that it is important for our countries to get to know one another better, and we have been working on that initiative with the Romanian Embassy in Zagreb. We still do not know each other well enough.

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