Ambassador of Croatia to the United Kingdom, Ivan Grdešić, speaks with PM Communications about investment opportunities in his country and discusses the advantages that accession to the EU would bring to the Balkan state
Joining the EU in an era of globalisation presents huge opportunities for countries such as Croatia, allowing it to present its national interests in a larger environment, and ensuring the better protection of the country’s values. It should have a positive effect in terms of having a larger inflow of foreign capital; especially when it comes to investment into Greenfield projects.
This is an important time for Croatia as we come closer to EU membership. EU membership is Croatian strategic answer to the challenges of globalization and pressures that it produces. Staying outside of the EU would mean marginalization in many ways; it would make the protection of our national interests more difficult.
What kind of foreign investments are you looking for?
There are several areas in which foreign investors may find opportunities: in tourism, creating new hotel capacities or upgrading existing hotels and tourist infrastructure to the new quality levels. In energy sector: LNG, electricity generation and petrochemical industry. Transport infrastructure, specially railroads and waterways (river Sava project in the capital of Zagreb), agriculture development and modernisation via new, large systems of irrigation.
European Union funds, that will be available with our membership, may also be a good opportunities for business and investors to partner with Croatian companies and governments.
As a part of the economic development strategy, Croatia intends to increase the export of Croatian products, attract investments, and give attention to stimulating Croatian emigrants to invest in new industries. Can you tell us a bit about the activities to encourage further interest in the Croatian economy?
Rule of law, a stimulating tax system and modern infrastructure are the three pillars for creating investment opportunities and development in general. There is a constructive debate in the country about creating a positive entrepreneurship climate, eliminating unnecessary red tape and other obstacles for investors. One of the tasks of the new Croatian Agency for Investment and Competitiveness (CAIC) is the identification of the bottlenecks in creating opportunities for investment. Croatians with business interests are more than welcome to bring their experiences and skills to Croatian economy and society.
You mentioned the importance of tourism as a leading area of development in the country, with nautical and golf tourism as two of the priorities, can you tell us a bit more about the potential for that in Croatia?
The nautical part of tourist industry is very important. Not that it is important only in terms of revenue, it is important for Croatia as a maritime country. Living at the sea and from the sea, this is a lifestyle revolving around ships—building them, using them, and maintaining them.
Golf, on the other hand, is something very new. It is a very expensive development that is set to bring tourists with higher levels of spending. This is a new field for us, and we are trying to reach into this segment of market, combining golf playing opportunities with the beauty of our country.
Is there a plan to diversify into other tourism products?
Indeed, we also have to diversify our tourism potentials. Golfing is one example. We have to expand the tourism season, starting earlier in spring and in to the fall, so that hotels operate longer. We also have to develop tourist capacities in the continental part of Croatia; health and spa tourism, hunting, fishing, hiking and other activities that may attract people to visit the hinterland which is only few hours away from the coast.
Tourism brings demand for local food, activities and transportation. In that sense, while the country depends on tourism, tourism depends on agriculture and other activities in the country.
You mentioned the country’s dependence on tourism. Is there a plan to diversify away from that?
Certainly, we cannot depend entirely on tourism, and we do not, as it may be affected by the fluxes in the global politics and economy. It may be easily put on hold for a while. This is why it is important for Croatia, but also for other countries in the region, to be a member of the EU, membership creates security, political and economic stability.
What is Croatia’s brand identity?
Croatia is small, but highly varied country with many historical influences – Central European, Danube, Mediterranean and Balkan. It is not easy to put a single brand to a country with such a variety. Croatia has so many things to show.
Croatia is an old nation and a young state that is optimistic about its future. It has a good blend of beautiful environment, pleasant climate and good geographic position in Europe. The country’s position in Europe, its beauty and presence in the modern world combine to create the Croatian brand.
In terms of the branding project, I would like to see it come naturally. That is the only way that it will stay and take hold. I am not a big fan of forcing a single brand upon the society. It has to be something organic, emerging from who we are and what our country is about. This will no doubt take some time.
How would you comment on the potential brain drain from the rising competitiveness of your youth (particularly, in light of your coming membership to the EU)?
We have a lot of young and talented people who would benefit from new European opportunities. I think that is where the country’s membership to the EU would come at the right time for these young people. They would have opportunities for training and work in a way that would not make us fear a brain drain. Ease of transport, modern communication, e-economy, put different light on the traditional notion of brain drain and emigration. Today modern economies do not demand physical presence; people create and produce without necessarily leaving their homes.
What are your specific objectives as Ambassador of Croatia to the UK?
In the first months of 2013 my diplomats in the Embassy and I will be concentrated on the UK ratification process of the Croatian Accession Treaty to the EU. After the membership there will be new task and new priorities. My objective is to create partnerships in terms of economy, politics, security, and culture, showcasing Croatia and what it can offer to British investors, entrepreneurs and visitors.