The performance of economic diplomats should be measurable
Guests: Mr. Samuel Žbogar, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Mr. Vladimir Gašparič, Director-General of Directorate for Economic Diplomacy and Development Cooperation
The topic of the Business breakfast was economic diplomacy and the economy on foreign markets.
The introductory speech by Executive Director of AmCham MSc. Ajša Vodnik was followed by the speech of the President of AmCham, Mr Tomaž Lovše. He highlighted the importance of using resources of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as the expertise and connections it is offering. Companies should contact embassies for support in establishing connections abroad. Slovenia has to engage the best staff who will work in the interest of Slovenian companies. He also mentioned the participation of Slovenian companies in the economic field in Afghanistan and Iraq and even offered some possible business ideas for activities of Slovenian government and foreign governments.
Mr Samuel Žbogar
In economic diplomacy we need to set targets for how much we want to increase foreign investment and business cooperation.
He presented 5 goals he set to himself as a foreign minister:
- Relations with Croatia: the ratification of an Arbitration Agreement and the development of partner relationship
- Relations with neighboring countries: Italy and Austria are the most important investment partner of Slovenia; there are problems with our minority in both countries
- Slovenia, as a South Eastern European country: Initiatives - a strategy for Slovenian relations with the Western Balkans; what is our added value in the region?
- Dealing with global challenges: Diplomacy has to catch up with these challenges, environmental issues - we should discuss about these more, environmental protection, water, migration, nuclear disarmament
- Economic diplomacy: ''This topic is my highest priority, we live in time of crisis, and diplomacy can initiate changes.'' We need to attract as much foreign investments to Slovenia as possible.
The objectives are to also to change the mentality in the ministries, greater focus on business and economic objectives; strengthening of the brand name Slovenia; increase in foreign investments; creating a business friendly diplomacy. We need to think strategically about the position of Slovenia in 2020 and there should be cooperation between the ministries.
Tools for support to economic diplomacy:
- Business delegations: Prime Minister and President, visits - Qatar, Libya, Azerbaijan.
- Meetings with Ambassadors: going east to the Gulf Countries; changes in the diplomatic service; opening locations where business community meets with ambassadors; visa policy – limitations due to the Schengen agreement, changes are underway that will help business community. Ambassadors are very committed to help Slovenian economy.
- Economic Development assistance: support of development, connected with promotion of economic relations, this is a new area for Slovenian foreign policy; limited staff resources, more education for the ministry’s staff, sending ambassadors to the companies so they will know what they promote abroad.
- Directorate for Economic Diplomacy and Development Cooperation: Strategic Council meets regularly and has ideas; higher investments in company specialization are necessary; it is necessary that senior managers of Slovenian companies become global managers.
Mitja Meršol: ''We still think too often in terms of routine diplomacy but the time has come for new diplomacy. Staying in office is not diplomacy, or writing reports, diplomacy means communication. Promotion of our country is necessary, but not from the offices. What is your opinion about these different approaches to diplomacy?'' You could establish Slovenian Houses.
Minister Žbogar: I travel across Slovenia and I meet with local business community. I am interested in their opinion; any company can approach us and ask questions. We also take ambassadors to visit companies. We want Slovenian embassies to become Slovenian Houses, with meeting halls, exhibition halls and we are already active in this direction.
Bradley Freden: When you took over the position there were speculations that you would be too much of an advocate of USA because you came from Washington. I believe that this is not the case because you are a big Slovenian patriot who represents well the Slovenian interests. Political environment in Slovenia is bitter, issues with Croatia, many of your opponents, unfortunately, look at these issues in a way too narrow and do not see the regional picture - the stability of the region. Also other issues discussed in parliament do not raise the mood of people; there is no vision for the future. Foreign policy is an exception, as you have a vision for the future. How would you describe the Slovenian niche in the world?
Minister Žbogar: I agree with the feelings you just described. The economic situation is improving; we are cooperating with several ministries whose activities also influence business area on the initiatives for the development of Slovenia in the future. The world places Slovenia in the South Eastern Region. Relations in the region are still based on historical facts, so it needs help. Slovenia could play an intermediary role, because we are a small country, without major investment interests in that area. But we have high quality people in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and we are capable of developing this niche where we would act as intermediaries. Not only in South Eastern Europe but also wider. Humanitarian aid from Slovenia is also important, for example, rehabilitation of child victims of landmines from the Gaza Strip.
Ajša Vodnik: How can companies benefit from economic diplomacy, where and how can they approach you, whom to contact?
The Director-General Vladimir Gašparić: There are several ways. We have qualified and educated staff, then there are 25 economic councils that adhere to the 20 points that define how they can support Slovenian companies; embassies and ambassadors can help Slovenian companies as well, and their efficiency will be measured with economic activities. We are opening new embassies solely for trade and business purposes and we will also increase the number of economic councils in those embassies.
Special thanks to the general sponsor of Business breakfast Energoplan Company and media partner Dnevnik d.d.