Firms urged to take Asian tiger by the tail

Slovak export companies need to reduce their emphasis on sending products to European markets and extend their trade to Asia, Chairman of the Slovak Chamber of Commerce Peter Mihók said at an economic development conference in Bratislava on October 16.
Citing that Slovak companies are "concentrating too much on trade with neighboring and European countries," Mihók prescribed emphasizing trade to Asian countries, which make up "50 percent of the world's population" and offers "great space" for growth.
Slovak exports to Asia currently rest at 2 percent of the country's total exports abroad, yet, according to Mihók, "no less than 60 percent of [Slovak] industrial products must be exported."

Slovak export companies need to reduce their emphasis on sending products to European markets and extend their trade to Asia, Chairman of the Slovak Chamber of Commerce Peter Mihók said at an economic development conference in Bratislava on October 16.

Citing that Slovak companies are "concentrating too much on trade with neighboring and European countries," Mihók prescribed emphasizing trade to Asian countries, which make up "50 percent of the world's population" and offers "great space" for growth.

Slovak exports to Asia currently rest at 2 percent of the country's total exports abroad, yet, according to Mihók, "no less than 60 percent of [Slovak] industrial products must be exported."

Mihók was one of several featured speakers at the third annual "European Economy Meeting," a two-day conference organized by the Bratislava branch of the Slovak Chamber of Commerce and held at the Slovak trading company Kerametal's headquarters. In addition to the public and private sector luminaries, a huge turnout of ambassadors or representatives from 26 diplomatic missions studded the premises.

Capital takes center stage

Due to the event's organizer, it was not surprising that this year's gathering focused on Bratislava's potential for business opportunities. Showcasing the city's economic vitality and viability, officials trotted out an over two-year-old study supported by the EU Commission that ranked the Slovak capital first among 471 municipalities as a fertile ground for small and medium-sized enterprises.

The study, carried out by the German firm EAO Empirica Delasasse, cited especially Bratislava's low labor costs as "the vital, decisive factor" in the city's top ranking, especially in consumer goods production, according to EAO's director, Wolfgang Steinle. But he tempered the remark by pointing out that "If this [low labor costs] is the only thing you can offer, though, it will mean low purchasing power for the population and the economic advantage cannot be comprehensively started."

Despite the report, Bratislava and Slovakia as a whole are starving for foreign capital, able to receive only smidgens that their neighbors don't gobble up. Steinle addressed this paradox. "Bratislava has everything at hand, but when I look at practical life here...despite a relatively stable currency, other aspects are not sufficient for investment."

Steinle illustrated specific examples. "The truth is there are no decent roads to Bratislava [from Vienna]," Steinle said. "The closer you get to Bratislava, the worse it is," though he added that the situation is no worse than in Prague. He also said the traffic jam that doubles for a border crossing between Austria and Slovakia on Petržalka's outskirts "hasn't changed since I crossed it six years ago" and "impedes trade."

Bratislava Mayor Peter Kresánek did not run from the statements, conceding that infrastructure needs to be improved but levelled blame at the state for the "absurd" amount that it allocates to the capital. Kresánek cited that while Prague sports a 1995 budget of 19.5 billion KČ, Bratislava got only 2 billion Sk this year, far behind even Brno at 7.4 billion KČ. Despite the obstacles, the mayor revealed two bright spots on the infrastructure horizon, with a strategic partner to buy a municipal wastewater plant and the German company Siemans to take care of the city's public lighting.

Tiger by the tail

While Bratislava tends to local issues, Mihók encouraged Slovak businesses to "build up representative offices or station business representatives" in Asian countries. Asked which products Asian countries would be interested in, Mihók recited a long list: chemical, agro-chemical, additives, energy plants and equipment (especially to China and India), small agricultural technology and machinery, health technological equipment such as X-rays, bearings and glass.

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