ECONOMY

Serbia wants more participation from Greece in privatizations

The republic of Serbia’s minister for privatizations appealed yesterday to Greek industrialists to invest in his country, now that a big round of sell-offs of state companies is under way. Privatization Minister Aleksandar Vlahovic told reporters yesterday: «2003 will be a year of mass privatizations… I do expect that (Greek) interest will be converted into action and that real investment from Greek companies will come in 2003.» Vlahovic, accompanied on his trip by Crown Prince Alexander Karadjordjevic, son of Yugoslavia’s last king, met a total of about 70 Greek businessmen in two separate meetings yesterday to brief them about Serbia’s privatization program, which involves the sale of 75 large and about 1,000 small and medium-sized enterprises. Vlahovic referred to examples of successful Greek investments by several banks – National, Alpha, EFG Eurobank and Commercial – and industries, such as Titan Cement, which acquired 70 percent of Serbia’s second largest cement company, Kosjeric. He also mentioned dairy company Delta as one of the candidates to acquire a dairy company, as well as a frozen-foods firm. He also, however, talked about some investments going through difficulties, such as Telekom Srbja, in which Greece’s OTE has acquired a 20 percent stake. «Talks have to be made (about the investment) because, at the moment all three sides are losing,» he said, referring to the Serbian government, the majority shareholder, OTE and Telecom Italia, which has a 29 percent stake in the company. Greek companies have been quite active recently in Serbia and the rest of rump Yugoslavia: Hellenic Sugar Industry has acquired a sugar company, Saikaska, for 9.1 million euros, and is about to close the deal on a second unit, Cvrenka. Supermarket chain Veropoulos will soon complete the construction of a store, Super Vero, in Belgrade, a 3-million-euro investment. Vlahovic referred to several upcoming privatizations, such as the sale of the country’s two cigarette plants, Duvanska Industrija Nis (DIN) and Duvanska Industrija Vranje (DIV), and oil company Beopetrol. Several tobacco multinationals, such as BAT and Philip Morris, are interested in the two plants. Vlahovic said Serbia is now enjoying macroeconomic stability, with growth around 4 percent, a budget deficit of less than 4 percent of GDP and 16 percent inflation, which is expected to drop into single digits next year. He added he hoped Yugoslavia could join the European Union by 2010.