To get more attractive - promote yourself!
Besides the Managing director of Sava Tires, you are also the president of American Chamber of Commerce in Slovenia. Can you describe this association? We have only been in existence for a couple of years. I really started the president position in September 2001. It is one of the forty chambers around Europe. Almost every country has a chamber. These are not just American companies, by the way. It's private, so that any company can be a part of it: Slovenian, German or French. Our objective is to improve the investment climate. Of course we would like to see more trade with the United States. Slovenia is very much involved with trade in Western Europe and EU countries, which is natural, but we would like to see increases with the U.S. Despite that, the Chamber is really an international chamber, they all are. In the old days it was only American companies, but in today's world we are all so mixed up. I mean, how can you separate a company like Daimler-Chrysler? Is it American or German? It' s international. How many members do you have? Right now we have about 75 members . It s not a lot. About half of them are American and the other half are non-American. But, even the half that is American is run by Slovenians. Members may be companies and even individuals. We are still, I think, one of the smallest Amchamb's in Europe. Generally, what we have done in the first two years is that we've established a stable chamber. We have an office, we have staff, we have published our first yearbook. We are now on an equal basis in Slovenia with the AmChamb as the rest of the region. We are now getting a good format of monthly meetings, where we can network, you know, put people together, so that they can communicate. We invite stimulating guests. It is usually at breakfast, because here in Slovenia they seem to do better over breakfast than lunch. What are the benefits of membership? If companies stand together and advocate things that are constructive and beneficial to all, we have more influence than attempting to do it individually. In fact, you cant do it individually. So you have collective influence, and you also have the network. You can see people at breakfast once a month. It is just a good way for businessmen to associate. What are some issues you are dealing with? One thing we do is to bring people together to network to talk about business, investment and trade. Another thing we do is that we want to advocate change. One of the areas that we work on is taxation. It is not that the laws are bad. But the administration of them is that you are guilty until you are proven innocent. Especially medium and small companies are very much abused by this. An example of that is, is if they find anything wrong in your DDV (VAT), you are immediately guilty and you pay the fine, even though you might be innocent. You have to prove your innocence in court, That makes companies frightened of even fighting in court. They just give up. You make an administrative error, an honest clerical error, which is easy to do. A reasonable court in Western Europe would allow you to pay the taxes, but not pay penalties and fines. But in Slovenia you will regret it if you attempt to go to court, because they will do something else against you. This is a real problem in Slovenia. Somebody should stand up and correct this. So we are going to try to do that. We hope to publish what we call a white paper - a statement in which we can state that no one has issues with the laws, we only have issues with how the laws are administrated. We think this is not done in a fair way. And it's inconsistent with the Western Europe. What do you think are the biggest problems in Slovenia? I don't see huge problems. Language might be a problem at the beginning, even that is not a big issue, since the majority of people speak English. I think Slovenia is young emerging country that is finding its way. Not only in AmCham, but also in Goodyear we are trying to be a positive influence, to develop a better investment climate. Slovenia is a good country to do business with. It's good geographically, good people, good infrastructure, good language skills, friendly government that wants to do better but is learning how to behave in the European Union. I think Slovenia does not do enough to promote itself. Like Hungary, The Czech republic and Poland. They all do much more than Slovenia to promote themselves. They have offices in the U.S. and Western Europe to attract investment. That is because Slovenia has been so successful already, they feel they don't need to try much harder. Things are pretty good as they are. But that is not a guarantee for the future. What should be done to make Slovenia economically more competitive? I'd like to see this taxation to be more user-friendly. The government will have to deal with the issues of inflation, including the issue of indexation of wages. No one mentions it in the press, but it will have to be faced. The inflation will not decrease until you stop indexing wages. The unions aren't going to like that. No one does that anywhere in the Western world and Slovenia, at some point, will have to end it too. These will have to be determined at the company level with the union. It cannot be ordered by the government. I just don't believe they will get the inflation down otherwise. What is your prediction for the country? I'm optimistic. Especially if you take a look of the human resource potential. But, there is work to be done. To promote the country, to change the policy, to make things better and more attractive. Now, Slovenia is in a very big beauty contest to attract investment. And everybody else is losing weight and dyeing their hair. You have to be in the same game, otherwise you don't get the prize, which is investment and trade. I've always said: if we can get people to Slovenia, we can encourage them easily to invest. But if we don't, you never get the chance to even enter the contest. Slovenia should do more to promote itself.