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Montenegro Consul Presents Opportunities for Slovenian Companies (interview)

Ljubljana, 24 January (STA) - Montenegro's Honorary Consul Vojislav Kovač has told the STA in an interview that Slovenia and Montenegro have very good political and economic relations, and that there are still plenty of opportunities for Slovenian companies in his country. Energy and infrastructure projects have the biggest potential.

Kovač, a successful businessman, noted that Slovenian companies and investors have been present in Montenegro since the earliest phases of the transition and privatisation in the young country.

Respected Slovenian companies and financial institutions are present in Montenegro, including the NLB bank, gaming company Hit, insurer Zavarovalnica Triglav, reinsurer Sava Re, logistics company Intereuropa, retailer Mercator and fuel retailer Petrol.

Slovenian capital has been invested in numerous companies and funds, while the number of Slovenian tourists is on the rise. Trade between the countries before the economic crisis reached EUR 160m, he added.

"Given all these indicators and the good relations, I believe that there are plenty of opportunities for cooperation in the future," Kovač said, mentioning investments in energy as an example.

According to him, the energy sector will be a great opportunity for Slovenian companies, as a 1,000-megawatt submarine cable is planned between Montenegro and Italy, transferring electricity to Italy.

Much is also expected from agriculture and tourism. Major investments are planned in the construction and modernisation of the utility and road infrastructure and waste water management. "It is expected from Slovenian companies to show interest and participate in the projects."

Kovač noted that Montenegro had mainly developed private entrepreneurship in the recent years. Food industry is also growing, so "I believe that we will soon have companies competitive outside the Montenegro borders."

Asked about the decline in bilateral trade, which last year stood at EUR 100m, he assessed that the financial and economic crisis, which has hit the entire region, was the main reason.

However, cooperation between Slovenia and Montenegro should not be measured only by trade figures. "Montenegro's economy is dominated by tourism and other services, and this is where major income is recorded, including from Slovenian tourists".

The country has a very attractive tax policy, as corporate tax stands at 9%, but the minuses emphasised by Slovenian executives are the lack of liquidity and payment discipline. But in the time of recession, this is a problem faced by the entire region. Kovač said.

Asked about the chances of the faltering Slovenian construction sector to win deals in Montenegro, he noted that Slovenian builders had constructed some of the most important structures there, such as the Sozina tunnel (SCT) and the Millennium Bridge (Primorje), one of the landmarks of the capital Podgorica.

Montenegro will continue to use the know-how and experience of Slovenian builders in the construction of the most demanding structures. "Montenegro has been an important market for Slovenian builders, and their presence is also expected in the future."

The majority of privatisations involving Slovenian companies were successful, according to Kovač. Slovenian companies carry out their projects professionally and in time, so the predominant image of Slovenian entrepreneurship in Montenegro is positive, he added.

"It is interesting that I get a lot of questions from Montenegro regarding the situation and prospects of the NLB bank, which acquired Montenegrobanka in 2003 and enjoys big respect and credibility in the Montenegrin business world".

Despite the abundant natural resources, Montenegro, as a small and open economy, is aware that it cannot develop without foreign capital. This is why emphasis will be put this year on attracting new investors, Kovač concluded.

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