FDI in the Balkans up 60 pct in 2003

SOFIA (AFP) – The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said yesterday here that foreign investment in the Balkans had gone up 60 percent in 2003 but would have to triple to bring the region up to Central European standards. «In the region as a whole, foreign direct investment has gone up 60 percent in the last year (2003) compared to the average of the previous years» to $7 billion (5.6 billion euros), the OECD’s program director for investment, Declan Murphy, said in an interview here. «However, the region should double that level if not triple it to catch up with the sort of level of investment that you see in Central Europe.» He said the OECD’s advice to the Balkans would be to «target more investment, improve the regulatory and business environment.» Declan said it was clear that Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia were advancing more quickly than the other countries in the region, but they needed to make «huge improvements» in streamlining licensing, permit and company registration procedures. «If that can be made, the opportunity is there for the countries to become significantly more attractive.» Declan predicted that direct foreign investment would exceed $7 billion in 2004, adding, «It is so very important now to stay at that level.» He said Serbia, Moldova and Albania were lagging behind the rest of the region because their economic transformation had been slower and that their neighbors should share their expertise with these states to help them catch up. The most important challenge for the Balkans, he added, was to improve their image with foreign investors to show they were «on the road to integration in the EU markets.»