More than 400 businesspeople have given the start of Confindustria Balcani, the Balkan association of Italian companies, at a special ceremony in the Bulgarian capital Sofia.
The ceremony marked the first session ever of Confindustria Balcani, the union of Italian business associations in the Balkan countries, that took place in Sofia on Wednesday.
The brand-new federation brings together Italian entrepreneurs operating in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia and Romania.
The participants in the forum were greeted by Deputy Economy Minister Evgeni Angelov on behalf of the Bulgarian government who emphasized the importance of the Confindustria Balcani initiative to foster economic dynamic and development in Southeast Europe.
On the Italian side, Edoardo Garrone, Vice President of Confindustria Italia and President of the group ERG, saluted the founding of the Italian Balkan business federation as a great success of the Italian entrepreneurship in Bulgaria and in the Balkans.
"Bulgaria's business environment is highly appreciated by Italian investors and entrepreneurs. Nonetheless, in order to boost the Italian investments in Bulgaria, Italian companies need a clearer normative framework and a higher efficiency in absorbing the EU funds," declared Garrone, whose company ERG is active in the sector of coastal refining (through the ISAB Refinery in Priolo which is managed by the joint venture with LUKOIL), integrated downstream, generation and sale of thermoelectric power, steam and gas and, through the subsidiary ERG Renew, in the sector of generation of electricity from renewable sources (with an installed capacity of 310 MW).
"We have selected Bulgaria as the center through which the entire information of Confindustria Balcani would go not only because of geographic considerations but also because of the human potential, the mutual interest, and the experience gathered by the Italian firms working here," Garrone said.
"We want to create a young and dynamic organization that will be as a bridge between Italy and the Balkans," declared in turn Massimo Bartocci, the Chairman of Confindustria Bulgaria – the association of the Italian Entrepreneurs in Bulgaria.
"Italy's Ambassador to Bulgaria Stefano Benazzo and the Vice President of the Confederation of Employers and Industrialists in Bulgaria (CEIBG), Sasha Bezuhanova also addressed the founders of Confindustria Balcani. In particular, Benazzo stressed the innovation represented by the project of Confindustria Balcani, and renewed his support to the Italian business initiative in Bulgaria.
Bezuhanova underlined with satisfaction the strict cooperation that is growing between the main organization of Italian business, Confindustria, and CEIBG."
Andrea Casini, COO of Unicredit Bulbank, expressed the support of the Bank to the initative, underlining the widespread presence of the Unicredit group in Central and South Eastern Europe.
The second part of the event was devoted to a round table about the industrial recovery in the Balkans after the global economic crisis, with the presentation of two Italian success stories in the region: Devnya Cement of the Italcementi Group and SOL Group.
The Italcementi Group, which owns and runs the Bulgarian factory Devnya Cement, has already pledged an investment of EUR 250 M (expected to reach EUR 350 M) over the next 2 years into a new facility that is going to increase the plant's daily output of cement by 3000 tonnes. The SOL Group, founded in 1927, is engaged in the production, applied research and marketing of industrial, pure and medicinal gases. Today, SOL is an Italian based multinational company present also in Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia and Romania.
About 1000 Italian companies active in the Balkans are members of Confindustria Balcani, whose founding was formally announced in Tirana in April 2010 with the key role of Confindustria Bulgaria.
For the first three years of its existence Confindustria Balcani will be managed by Confindustria Bulgaria (formerly the the Committee of the Italian Entrepreneurship in Bulgaria (CIIB) and Mr. Bartocci will chair the Federation.
Italy's domestic business association Confindustria has over 150 000 member companies, which provide employment to over 5 million people with combined revenue of EUR 500 B.
"The fact that we chose the Bulgarian capital Sofia for the meeting of Confindustria Balcani demonstrates Bulgaria's major role in the region, the dynamics of Italian companies working in the country, and its economic potential," the head of Confindustria Bulgaria, Massimo Bartocci, said recently upon announcing the first General Assembly meeting of Confindustria Balcani in Sofia. Estimates have shown that Bulgaria can expected between EUR 1 B and EUR 3 B in foreign direct investment from Italian companies over the next few years.
Data of Confindustria Balcani shows that there are currently 800 Italian businesses that are active in Bulgaria. On this criteria, Bulgaria ranks second in the region after Romania, which boasts 4 000 Italian companies – a development seen much as a result of the fact that firms from Northern Italy started outsourcing some operations in Romania as early as the mid 1990s. Albania and Serbia come in next with about 300 active Italian businesses each.
Confindustria Bulgaria, which unites about 200 enterprises representing a total investment of EUR 2 B, with an annual turnover of EUR 1.3 B, and 20 000 Bulgarian employees, expects that by 2020 the number of Italian companies operating in the country will grow by 20-30% reaching at least 1000.
The representatives of Confindustria Bulgaria and Confindustria Balcani have emphasized the importance of the Balkans for the Italian businesses and the Italian economy by comparing Italy's trade with the Balkans to its trade with the so called BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China).
In 2009 Italy's trade with the Balkans amounted to EUR 17 B; Italy's total exports to the Balkan states was EUR 10.1 B, equaling its exports to China (EUR 6.6 B), India (EUR 2.7 B), and Brazil (EUR 2.7 B) combined, and far surpassing its exports to Russia (EUR 6.5 B).
"We believe that in Italy's case another "B" should be added to "BRIC" to stand for the Balkans," Bertocci said.
Italy's trade with Bulgaria amounted to EUR 2.3 B in 2009, down from the EUR 3 B per year before the economic crisis. It is Bulgaria's third largest trading partner after Germany and Greece; in 2009, Bulgaria's exports to Italy were EUR 1.3 B vs. imports of EUR 1 B, according to data of Confindustria Bulgaria.