The Slovenia Times

"A reference country and an active partner"



What is the significance of economic diplomacy for the Slovenian economy today?

When I was appointed to be Minister of Foreign Affairs, I suggested that I would devote considerable attention to the work of economic diplomacy. Representatives of both large and small Slovenian companies have a lot of praise for the help provided by our embassies, economic advisors, and my colleagues at the Ministry. Slovenian economic operators are grateful for the support of the Ministry and the useful information provided by our diplomatic representative bodies around the globe.

I would like to further strengthen our network of economic advisors. By 2020, we wish to increase the number of economic advisors by 18, which means to a total of 40 advisors. I think there is no need to explain why more of them are needed. During the crisis, it became clear how useful skilled economic diplomacy is. Back then, it aided our companies to find new partners around the world and sought opportunities for foreign investments in Slovenia. Quick access to fast and quality information is vital in times of crisis. It is essential to open the door when economies are cooling off, and this is precisely what networks of economics are best at.

The fact is that Slovenia is highly export-oriented. Our 100 largest companies account for more than half of our exports. The majority of our exports-a staggering 87 percent-are to countries within the radius of 500 kilometres. But being export-oriented also makes us vulnerable. Thus, cooperation between all ministries, associations, and organizations in charge of promotion at summits and in markets is key. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs fosters cooperation between the Government, the Chamber of Commerce, and Industry of Slovenia as well as the Slovenian Tourist Board.

Within this context, how does the government cooperate with export companies-is the cooperation based predominantly on aid, technical support, or participation in delegations when visiting foreign countries?

We cooperate in different ways. The Ministry provides support by collecting and providing business information, as well as the concrete assistance to our advisors from foreign representative bodies in terms of networking. Advisors also help solve problems that certain companies face in certain countries, and provide assistance with presentations at various summits, etc. Of course they cannot provide direct help when it comes to entering contracts or presenting individual companies in foreign markets.

Whenever our President, Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs, or Minister of Economic Development and Technology visit foreign countries, the Ministry organizes so-called economic delegations that accompany them abroad. In 2018, we organized economic delegations that accompanied our highest-ranking officials to Kosovo, North Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, and Denmark. We also assisted them to establish contact with African countries when they participated in delegations with Ethiopia and Ghana.

As a rule, such visits require us to organize business forums in cooperation with chambers of commerce. We also collaborate with international organizations and partake in B2D (Business to Diplomacy) events. In mid-June, we took diplomatic representatives to Žiri where we presented the local company Alpina.
A large part of our work also involves assembling mixed intergovernmental committees for economic partnerships. In mid-June we assembled a joint committee with Russia, and in 2018 with China, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Austrian Styria, Friuli Venezia Giulia, and others.

Which forums currently connect Slovenian foreign policy and economic operators to encourage development of common strategies?

In our efforts for a greater internationalization, we cooperate with other ministries and organizations, such as the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Slovenia (GZS). An excellent example of such cooperation was the Three Seas Initiative Business Forum held in June. The forum, which was organized in cooperation with GZS, took place at the edge of the Three Seas Initiative. The Initiative is comprised of 12 member states from Central and Eastern Europe, which are spread between the Baltic Sea, Black Sea and Adriatic Sea. June's summit in Ljubljana saw over 600 economic operators and 44 states discussing concrete infrastructural, energy, and transport connections that would enable the countries of Eastern and Central Europe to catch up with the progressive western part of the integration.
This is just one of the important events that contribute to the development of concrete projects.

How do you support small companies in the so-called "new markets"? Which of these new markets do you reckon is the most promising for Slovenia?

As I have mentioned, Slovenia's primary focus is on markets within a 500 km radius, so we would also like to direct our efforts in the search for new opportunities to geographically distant, non-traditional markets. Last year, the Ministry of Economic Development and Technology organized a visit of the economic delegations to the Sub-Saharan Africa, namely to Ethiopia and Ghana. This spring, we also organized African Days and Latin American Days, and cooperated with China on the 16+1 initiative.

I would like to highlight two success stories from previous years, which resulted from cooperation with distant countries. I am talking about two successful investments, namely the Japanese investment by Yakasawa in Kočevje and the Canadian investment for setting up the Magna factory near Maribor. I believe there is no need to mention the success our companies-for instance Pipistrel-have enjoyed abroad.

I think it isnecessary that we look for business opportunities in geographically more distant countries, such as China, Japan, South Korea, certain Gulf countries and individual countries in Africa and South America. This is where the Council for Economic Internationalization, which connect partners from the public and private sectors, has to step in and play a key role.

Is today's economic diplomacy focused on any specific areas, for instance digitalization and circular economy?

When we talk about the structure of the Slovenian economy, we cannot overlook the fact that it is based on small and mid-sized companies. Many of them are highly innovative, boast exceptional knowledge, technology and products, and are leaders in the segment of digital transformation. This is why it is of no surprise that Slovenia wants to establish itself as a reference country and an active partner in the digital transformation of Europe. Digitalization requires us to think quickly and develop artificial intelligence. It is penetrating the very pores of our lives in all areas-from the automotive industry to other, higher levels such as the work of the government. When Slovenia takes over the presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2021, the main topics will be digitalization and circular economy. According to my assessment, the latter is no longer a thing of choice.

In the process of dynamic and fundamental changes to business operations, Slovenia can be defined as a success story. After all, we boast some of the most important characteristics that are of essential to succeed in the described conditions: a regulated infrastructure environment, well-functioning and stable public systems, a stable and development-focused political situation, numerous innovative individuals and companies, a quality education system, and diverse research activities.

Lately, we have brought together all these advantages in a single effort, which is summed up nicely by the slogan, "Slovenia, a green reference country in the digital Europe." The slogan encompasses respect for the environment, high quality of life, and the digital future of Europe.

As Prime Minister I emphasized the importance of transitioning to a sustainable economy, which is being established in the European Union by means of the circular economy concept. As stated, this will be one of the important topics in the foreign policy during our presidency in the Council of the European Union. We want Slovenia to become a regional hub for the development of a circular economy.

How are tourism (mainly with I feel Slovenia) and economic diplomacy connected? Do the two concepts support each other?

Tourism is becoming an increasingly important branch of economy in the green Slovenia. We want tourists to visit all the different parts of our beautiful country. Our vision is clear. Slovenia is striving to become a green, active and healthy destination of five-star experiences. In other words, "Slovenia is a green boutique global destination for high-end visitors seeking diverse and active experiences, peace, and personal benefits." Our embassies are proactive in presenting Slovenia as such at various summits, on social media, at different protocol and promotional events by promoting our natural landmarks, cultural attractions and events, cuisine and beverages, as well as various wellness activities and sports.

To what extent is our membership in the European Union increasing-or reducing-the efficiency of Slovenian economic diplomacy?

The European Union is our home, our living and working environment as well as our safe haven. Most of our external and commercial business exchange is with other EU member states-as much as 80 percent of it. As one of the active and constructive members of the EU, Slovenia strives to contribute to a stable, solidary, free and tightly interconnected European Union, which is an important player in the international arena.

Even in the case of Brexit, Slovenia sought constructive solutions that would benefit both the EU and the UK.

We want to disperse our commodity flow, which is why we are also in favour of entering free-market agreements between the EU and third countries with hidden potential. 

Do you still see room for improvement? How else could Slovenia achieve a more efficient and powerful economic diplomacy?

In the past decade, economic diplomacy has gained in importance, especially so during the crisis. I want to expand the network of economic advisors at our diplomatic missions and consular posts abroad. This will benefit our economy and provide extra support, especially due to the expansion of our services and the geographic scope of our companies' operations abroad. Despite the limitations in human resources and finance, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was successful in adapting and bringing innovation.

Our joint activities will focus on establishing and strengthening international connections, as well as promoting innovative achievements of Slovenian companies and the high level of Slovenian knowledge. A special focus will be place on our future activities: digitalization and artificial intelligence, green mobility, nanotechnology, and the promotion of circular economy. 

I will continue to encourage the internationalization of small and mid-sized companies and the internationalization of science, technology and innovation. And last but not least, we will take care of strengthening the image of our country and brand-Slovenia.


More from Nekategorizirano