KYIV – At Ukraine investment conferences, participants often arrive by taxi. At the Kyiv International Economic Forum, many arrived by jet.
“Algeria, America, Sweden, Luxemburg, Switzerland, South Africa, Russia, UK,” Kristina Klassen, a German management consultant working in Zurich, said, listing the nationalities she met during the two-day conference that ended here Friday. “Many of the people I talk to are interested investing, or want to invest. They are curious. They are evaluating.”
The forum drew 1,500 attendees, twice last year’s turnout. Having outgrown last year venue, the Kyiv Hilton, the expanded Forum speaks of shifting investor views on Ukraine, if only by degrees.
“The faces are the same, but the mood is changing,” Andrey Gorokhov, CEO of UMG Investments, said of recent overseas roadshows. “Before people analyzed and said, ‘let’s keep in contact.’”
“Now they are considering pilot projects, participating here, or hiring local experts,” he said, referring to investments that are taking shape.
Daniel Bilak, head of UkraineInvest, the national investment agency, said part of his team’s strategy is to draw big, eye catching, corporate names.
“We want four, five, six giants that are known to everyone, so the others think: ‘Why have we not yet come in?” he told the Forum. He spoke two days after his boss, Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, met here with Jamie Miller, president of GE Transportation. GE is to make locomotives here with Ukraine’s state railways.
To get fast wins for his new agency, Bilak surveyed existing foreign investors in Ukraine, asking about frozen investments.
“We have unlocked over $700 million in investment this year that would have been stuck because of vested interests,” said Bilak who is on leave from his job as managing partner at CMS Cameron McKenna in Kyiv.
During the two day gathering, speakers signaled urgency, warning against complacency.
“If you don’t export goods, you export people,” said Yulia Kovaliv, head of the office of Ukraine’s National Investment Council. She said the Rada is to pass in coming weeks a
concessions law that would allow public-private partnerships.
Vasyl Khmelnytsk, first vice president of the Ukrainian League of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, drew applause when he exclaimed: “I don’t like this word stability! We need growth, and growth means creation of jobs!”
“Everyone now leaves for Poland, the States, whereever -- we have to create jobs,” he continued, echoing general complaints about Ukraine’s brain and brawn drain. “Give people a choice, so they come back with their talents and their experience.”
Anatolii Kinakh, president of another company group, the Ukrainian League of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, warned: “Ukraine is in the midst of wide scale labor emigration -- all ages, all regions.”
Hugues Mingarelli, head of the EU delegation in Ukraine, said Ukraine’s exports to the EU increased by 25 percent during the first half of this year. But he warned of years of hard work ahead: harmonizing Ukraine’s rules, regulations, standards and production processes with those of the EU.
Only this work, he said, will bring full implementation of the Ukraine-EU free trade agreement that took full effect on Sept. 1.
“Ukraine will progressively become part of the EU market,” Mingarelli predicted of the benefits of this bureaucratic work and business investment. “Ukraine’s economy will export to the EU market without any obstacle.”
Tariffs and quotas are no longer significant barriers for Ukraine’s exports, maintained Mingarelli, who has ambassador rank. As he spoke Friday, the European Commission imposed anti-dumping duties on imports of hot rolled flat steel products from Ukraine, Russia, Brazil, and Iran. The duties range between EUR 17.60 and EUR 96.50, UNIAN reports from Brussels.
Nataliya Mykolska, Ukraine’s chief trade negotiator, differed with the Mingarelli on the problem of tariffs and quotas. But she agreed that the priority for Ukraine is to adopt the laws and regulations to fully implement the free trade pact with the EU.
Fresh from a working trip to Tel Aviv, she announced that Ukraine’s free trade pact with Israel is “in the finishing phase.”
“In Turkey we do not see this quick progress – we continue to negotiate,” she said. Perhaps in reference to the visit to Kyiv on Monday of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
TUID, she said: “We are not signing FTAs for political statements. The FTAs are economic tools.”