“Trade relations between the USA and Slovenia are going in the right direction!”
The Entrepreneurship in the New Reality tenth webinar
On Tuesday, March 23rd, the tenth and the last webinar in Entrepreneurship in the New Reality program was held, hosted by HE Ambassador Tone Kajzer from the Embassy of Slovenia in Washington (SI) and Chargé d’Affaires Susan K. Falatko from the US Embassy in Slovenia (US). The webinar was moderated by Thomas J. Brandi from Brandi Law Firm (SI).
The guests discussed how trade relations between the USA and Slovenia have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, what the opportunities for both countries were, and what the prospect of this relationship is. They also focused on challenges for Slovenian and American companies entering respective markets. At the end of the webinar Kaj Jež, ASEF (American Slovenian Education Foundation) entered the debate as an active listener and posed some in-depth questions to both guests.
Entrepreneurship in the New Reality program brings together top local, regional and US experts who, in a series of 10 free moderated webinars, provide the audience with professional know-how and share entrepreneurial experience to encourage entrepreneurs to grow, prosper and find new business methods for the future. The program is organised by GEA College Ljubljana in cooperation with the Embassy of the United States of America in Slovenia.
What are the biggest challenges for Slovenia in dealing with the US in terms of trade?
There is without any doubt a significant difference in the size of the two markets. And that is not all – the history, the societal and economic systems are too very different. Slovenia is still a relatively young country and our business model differs from the one before independence in 1991. Younger generations may have adopted a more entrepreneurial mindset now and the future will tell us to what extent.
Tone Kajzer: “Instead of challenges between the US and Slovenia I would rather use the word opportunities and, in my opinion, there are many! But we (Slovenians) are still too modest; we need to be more ambitious. On the legislative side, the biggest obstacle is still bureaucracy. The Slovene business environment is not as competitive as it could be for that particular reason. We are currently trying to attract more direct investments, green-field investments, but to take a significant step forward and be able to run faster, we need to get fitter. Regarding the generation gap between us and the younger generation, who were the same age in the early 90s when Slovenia was heading towards the independency, is of course visible. Nowadays the young have been adopting more of an entrepreneurial mindset. I hope the education system will eventually change to the extent that we will start teaching entrepreneurship at a really young age like in the States.”
What is the trade relationship between the US and Slovenia today?
“The United States has been working hard to develop bilateral trade and investment with Slovenia, although US investments in Slovenia have been modest. US companies looking to do business in Slovenia face a challenging environment, particularly if they are interested in selling goods and services to the government. Although compliant with most EU regulations and international treaties, the public procurement process has been the focus of bilateral efforts to improve transparency and establish stronger regulations. The United States and Slovenia have signed a reciprocal taxation treaty,” is stated on U.S: Embassy in Slovenia website. How are things today? What is the role of the US Embassy in Slovenia in this context?
Susan Falatko: “There are opportunities going both ways, but there are challenges too. And we in the US Embassy in Slovenia play an important role in removing these obstacles. We would like to help both sides increase economic relationships and cooperation between the two countries. I believe the biggest challenge for a Slovene company going to the US market is the size of the latter, so taking the first step is the hardest. So that is where we at the Embassy try to step in. Fortunately, we have a lot of tools at our disposal. Our Vienna-based Department of Commerce helps to facilitate connections in sectors or in companies. We have a programme that helps a company invest in the US We also organise an annual event in Washington called Select USA where we try to put together a delegation from each country of entrepreneurs and investors. On the other hand, for US investors looking at Slovenia, we publish a country commercial guide that looks at the environment. We do this in collaboration with AmCham and SPIRIT Slovenija.”
What are the challenges for American companies entering Slovenian economy?
It’s obviously a different set of challenges for Americans coming here than for Slovenians going to the States. The US is the third largest bilateral investor in Slovenia, combining direct and indirect investments. It’s over 2 billion USD.
Susan Falatko: “There are huge opportunities for American companies here in Slovenia and US companies have already taken advantage of that. I think moving forward we want to look at structural issues and we’ve discussed it with the Slovene government. I believe there should be more privatisation. We could see some changes to the labour and taxation codes too. If I was to point out some sectors that I believe are interesting for US companies here in Slovenia, I would start with the energy sector, followed by medical and pharmaceutical equipment. Logistics are interesting too. Hi-tech sectors in general, I would say.”
“Each and every investment in Slovenian economy creates new jobs and adds new value so it is very welcome. It is perceived and a great contribution to our prosperity. but we still need to make some progress in terms of making our business environment more competitive,” added Tone Kajzer.
What makes Slovenia attractive place for US companies to invest?
On investslovenia.org they say most foreign investors are attracted by Slovenia’s strategic position at the heart of Europe, its excellent transport and ITC infrastructure, its value chains, industry clusters and centres of excellence. Investors keen on locating their operations at the heart of the European market with 500 million consumers will find Slovenia’s international commercial contacts and the land-sea-air transport system ideal.
Tone Kajzer: “Let’s look from the perspective of natural resources and geographic position. Our Port of Koper presents a window to the outside world, so the logistics industry should be blooming. Then of course wood. I think we are the 3rd most forested EU country but we just don’t seem to take advantage of that fact. There is an opportunity to generate electricity with hydropower plants and so on. Then we can talk about tourism. I mean, for such a small place, we offer the seaside, mountains, beautiful flats, amazing culinary experiences etc. Slovenia has been gifted with amazing natural resources and we need to be smart to make the most of them and at the same time preserve our nature.”
“It’s location, location, location. The proximity to all major transportation quarters is really beneficial. But I would also add a highly educated workforce and proximity to Central Europe. It is therefore a very attractive place – not just for American companies but the whole world,” added Susan Falatko.
After a very interesting hour Kaj Jež also joined in and enriched the debate with some very interesting questions. The guests, along with the moderator, concluded that the future of the US and Slovenia trade relationship is bright and there is a good will on both sides to keep improving it.
This webinar concludes the series of 10 webinars and we would like to thank all participants, guests and moderators, everyone included in the organisation and above all, the US Embassy, in Slovenia for support.
We are proud to be part of this great program that will be carried out in partnership with:
This project was funded, in part, through a US Embassy grant. The opinion, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed herein are those of the Authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of State.
Entrepreneurship in New Reality is a tailored-made project, aimed at sharing knowledge and exchanging ideas among entrepreneurs in the times of new reality. It aims to promote cross-national collaboration, facilitate development of new business and enhance Trans-Atlantic perspective.