Ljubljana, 24 November (STA) - Slovenia should implement reforms that will make its economy more open to foreign investors, new US Ambassador to Slovenia Joseph Mussomeli told a meeting of the American Chamber of Commerce in Slovenia on Wednesday.
Assessing that Slovenia has many advantages for doing business, including a well-educated workforce, Mussomeli told the meeting that the country was failing to utilise its full potential due to delays in reforms.
He cited data suggesting that, despite its relatively good competitiveness ranking, Slovenia lags behind regional counterparts like Georgia, Albania and Romania in friendliness to investors.
Moreover, he pointed to modest trade and investment activity between Slovenia and the US. In 2009 US-Slovenian trade amounted to EUR 540m, down from a record EUR 697m in 2008. Moreover, US investments account for only EUR 69m of the EUR 11bn total FDI in Slovenia.
"Investors need this country to roll out the 'welcome mat' by making important reforms to the business environment and opening it up to foreign capital."
He said the post-recession period was the time to make painful reforms. But this does not mean that Slovenia must shape its economy on American solutions. "Slovenia is a European social democracy; it should not simply rely on the US model."
"However, there are comparable European social democracies - Switzerland, Denmark and Finland - that are more in line with Slovenia and are among the most competitive in the world."
Mussomeli said the main areas needing attention for Slovenia were a lack of transparency in public procurement, red tape, high taxes and the labour market.
"It also appears that the government controls, directly or indirectly, far too great a share in far too many companies, even by European standards."
He pointed to one-stop shops for foreign investors, privatisation of non-strategic industries and simplification of taxation as solutions the government should look at when implementing its reforms.
This was echoed by Tomaz Lovse, the Slovenian businessman who heads AmCham Slovenia, who said that he hoped the government would push ahead with its reform drive.
"Slovenia has to implement concrete measures to attract as much foreign capital as possible," said Lovse, pointing out that the privatisation model based on leveraged domestic takeovers had not been success.
"I would truly like to see a big US investment in Slovenia that would mark a centrepiece of economic cooperation between our countries and be a positive sign to other foreign investors," he added.