DESPITE efforts to bring more vitality to business relations between Slovakia and Canada, experts admit that much potential still remains untapped.
"Slovakia keeps striving to widen mutual cooperation with Canada in the economic, business and investment fields. We have not yet seen any real progress in economic relations, even though political relations have created a suitable framework for such progress," reads a statement from the Slovak foreign ministry.
"Canadian firms do not display sufficient interest in Slovakia and Slovak entrepreneurs have a hard time being successful on the demanding Canadian market," the statement continues.
Mutual trade in 2002 reached Sk1,635 billion (€39 billion), and Canada ranked only 37th on the list of foreign trade turnover.
Canadians showed great demand for Slovak furniture, shoes, and glass products. Most Slovak export heads for the provinces of Ontario and Québec, which make up for 90.4 percent of all trade, according to the Foreign Affairs Ministry.
Among the few companies that prove Slovaks can make it on the Canadian market is Corinex. The company focuses on the development and manufacturing of connectivity products for the distribution of high-speed data. It currently has its headquarters in Vancouver, but has strong ties with Slovakia.
Corinex's current CEO is Peter Sobotka, who remains the firm's majority shareholder.
"He grew the company in Slovakia from a US$ 400 (€370) paid-in capital base in 1992 to a US$ 65 million (€60 million) revenue base in 1998, which surpassed IBM in terms of revenue in the country," according to the Corinex website.
Among the company's top officials is another Slovak - Pavel Simon, who acts as Corinex's company tactical officer. Simon is the former head of the research and development section of the Command and Control Communication and Information Systems Group of the Military Technological Institute in Slovakia.
Corinex has sales and distribution teams worldwide and Bratislava is still home to the firm's research and development team.
"We concentrate mostly on world-wide export. The Slovak market is included but represents only a minor part of our business," said Marián Mikolaj of Corinex. The company now has 25 people working for it in Slovakia.
Corinex's future plans are dependent on its business results, according to company representatives. "Based on company growth we plan further investment," said Mikolaj.
Although perhaps not the most attractive location for Canadian enterprises, Slovakia has nonetheless seen some inflow of Canadian investment.
Canadian capital was involved in the construction of Polus City Center, one of Slovakia's largest shopping malls. Polus is a retail, entertainment, and office facility located in Slovakia's capital.
The construction of Polus was the first project in the retail and leisure industry supported by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) in Central and Eastern Europe. The EBRD provided a €51.7 million loan for the construction of the complex.
Polus is entirely owned by TriGranit Development, where TrizecHahn, one of North America's largest property companies, was one of the major shareholders. Through TriGranit, TrizecHahn has completed several other projects in the region, including the Bank Centre and the Polus Center, both located in Budapest.
In May 2002 TrizecHahn underwent restructuring, with creation of Trizec Canada and the launch of Trizec Properties, a publicly traded US real estate investment trust.
Trizec Canada later sold its 50 percent stake in TriGranit, which is now owned jointly by Hungarian entrepreneur Sándor Demján and a group of private investors led by Peter Munk, chairman, president and CEO of Trizec Canada.
Many Canadian companies focus on selling their products in Slovakia through a network of subsidiaries or partner companies.
McCain Foods, a well-known name in the food industry, launched its activities in Slovakia in 1996. Nearly one third of the world's french fries are produced by Canadian McCain Foods, which has about 55 production facilities on six continents and more than 18,000 employees worldwide, according to its website. However, only seven of those employees work in Slovakia.
The potato product producer started its activities in the country by importing frozen potato products from Holland. In 1999 a new McCain factory was built in Poland to supply the region of Central and Eastern Europe.
According to information provided by local representatives, McCain currently has a 30 percent share of the Slovak market.
"McCain Slovakia covers the entire country. We have around 20 distributors, and you can find us in every quality outlet from west to east," said Mária Kakasová, national sales manager for McCain Slovakia.
At the other end of the food industry, genetic technologies developer Semex Alliance is another company representing Canada in Slovakia.
With over 50 years of experience, Semex is among the global leaders in the field and co-owns a Slovak agricultural firm called Insemas.
Insemas was established in 1991 and is active in the production, distribution and sale of frozen semen and embryos for livestock. It also runs mating programmes, offers breeding and reproduction counselling, and publishes a magazine called Insemasáčik.
The firm, employing over 50 people, services a clientele of around 350 local customers, making up for around 40 percent of the domestic market. It also exports products to Germany, the Czech Republic, and Hungary.
"Our future goal markets include China, Russia, and Iran," said Insema CEO Emil Lauko.
Insemas also plans to further strengthen its ties with the Canadian business community by starting a project in Slovakia aimed at the production of soya bean for cattle consumption with Hyland Seeds, an Ontario-based company. Hyland Seeds, the largest privately owned multi-crop breeding program in Canada, uses progressive seed genetics, according to the company's website.
In addition to genetics, Canadian companies are also involved in other cutting edge technologies. Established more than a century ago, Nortel Networks has participated in major developments in the evolution of communications networks technology worldwide. Nortel's four core business areas are wireless networks, wired networks, enterprise networks and optical networks.
Its employees currently deliver networking services for customers in more than 150 countries, including Slovakia. The firm's Slovak subsidiary was established in 1997 and now has offices in Banská Bystrica, having 10 full-time staff.
When he was asked about prospects of future investment, Soska expressed a wish that is on the minds of many Slovaks and Canadians alike: "We all hope the market will grow!" he said.
2. Sep 2003 at 0:00 | Lukáš Fila