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invest in south eastern europe?

Wednesday 21 April, 2010

I attended this seminar Business and Investment Opportunities in Southeast Europe organized by the SouthEast Europe Chamber of Commerce @ Baker & McKenzie.  The presentations & handouts are on the webpage, so here’s what you can’t find there:

Baker & McKenzie is working on international projects related to infrastructure, logistics, supply chains, & climate change, often in the CIS.  They have no offices in south eastern Europe, but work through partners in those countries.  International client relationships are funneled through the Chicago office.

The state of Illinois exports $200M to the countries of south eastern Europe.  As a student, Mary Roberts navigated Sofia, Bulgaria by going from Dunkin Donuts shop to shop because the map wasn’t in English, but she could recognize the donut shop locations from the icons on the map.

When investing in this region, experience in 1 country is not sufficient in another.  You can acquire 100% in some countries, but real estate is typically more restricted.  Companies can buy land, but citizens of foreign countries cannot.  Don’t scare your local partner with a 100 page legal document, but do choose the legal forum for your contracts.  Art George of Baker McKenzie makes 3 observations:

  1. tax planning is still needed
  2. you still need to do due diligence on corporate compliance, local laws, etc.
  3. typically civil law reigns rather than common law, making HR/labor law a challenge with volumes of sheer paperwork

Q&A

  • Croatia, Macedonia, & Serbia hope to accede to the EU by 2012-14
  • Wireless networks cover the region, & have relatively well-educated technology workers employed by Microsoft, HP, Oracle, Siemens, etc.
  • The world basketball championships are coming to Turkey in 2010.
  • Religions are mixed:  Bosnia-Herzegovina is 44% Muslim, 33% Christian, 17% Catholic & has welcomed Afghan immigrants. Croatia is 90% Catholic & has sizable Hungarian & Italian populations.  Macedonia is 65% Orthodox, 25% Muslim.  Romania is 90% Orthodox.    Turkey is 98% Muslim.
  • North Africa is close-by & these markets are opening up to them, not just in oil. It’s been a focus of Turkey since 2008 & these exports helped them through the financial crisis.
  • Europeans don’t need residence & work permits here.
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