Capital Skopje
Time Zone CET (GMT+1)
Country Code 389
Mobile Codes 70,71,72,75,76,78
ccTLD .mk
Currency Denar (1EUR = 61.5MKD)
Land Area 25,713 sq km
Population 2.1 million
Language Macedonian
Major Religions Orthodox Christianity, Islam

International Business Forum Brings Together Macedonian, Israeli and Regional Interests

By Chris Deliso

On 14 December, a one-day business forum organized by the Macedonian-Israeli Business Club, and featuring officials from Macedonia and other countries was held in Skopje. Along with presentations from some of the organizers and visitors, the event allowed an opportunity for businessmen to discuss their offerings together in more detail.

Although Macedonian-Israeli business ties are already developed and date back to the 1990s, the event marked the first formal meeting of its type in Skopje. There are hopes that it will become an annual event, while Macedonian participation in similar events in Israel is also expected.

The event was opened by a speech from Dejan Dejanov, President of the Macedonian-Israeli Business Club. Also speaking for the organization was Gjiorgji Jancevski, President of the club’s Supervisory Board. Looking back on the progress made in the past year, he noted that over 50 businesses and individuals have joined the group since last March, when the club was founded. Adding that it and its activities are “based on the traditionally good relations between Macedonia and Israel,” Jancevski concluded that the event showed “that our endeavors have been successful.”

Speaking for the Macedonian government, Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Pesevski pointed out the high number of guests who packed one hall in Skopje’s trade fair, SAEM, calling it “an unexpected and positive surprise.” Characterizing the economic development of Israel as “a model for Macedonia and other countries in the region,” Pesevski pointed out that Macedonia has established “very good relations with MASHAV [the Israeli Agency for International Cooperation and Development], stating that “a MASHAV representative will be permanently present” in Skopje. Until now, the most visible such organizations in Macedonia have been the American USAID followed by various smaller EU bodies, and Turkey’s TIKA.

Indeed, later in the event, MASHAV’s Director for International Projects and Public Private Partnerships, Efraim Ben Matityahu spoke, as did Daniel Werner of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. The latter gave an overview of MASHAV products in Macedonia, while Ben Matityahu discussed MASHAV’s general activities and its background.

The roots of the development agency can be traced back to the foresight of David Ben Gurion, “who sought to share Israel’s experience in the developing world.” The director also noted that so far only Israel and South Korea have been recognized for making the transition from the classification of developing to developed country. Further, the cooperation of MASHAV with local companies is meant to “push the private sector to a higher level.”

Of course, despite best intentions, this economic cooperation will not always be easy. During the present period marked by global financial crisis and uncertainty surrounding the future of the euro, Macedonia has thus far been largely spared. However, the effects are expected to be felt during the coming year and the more the country becomes open to foreign trade, the more it will be susceptible in future to fluctuations in global markets.

In this light, Vice Prime-Minister Pesevski noted his government’s awareness of the present economic climate, and stated that it is prepared for challenges stemming from the “disturbing situation in Europe,” adding however that “in such times, opportunities can arise.”

Macedonian businessmen do see plenty of opportunities in working more closely with Israel, which may also have something to share about surviving the crisis. The Israeli Ambassador to Macedonia, David Cohen provided an overview of the Israeli economy, noting that Israel posted 4.7% economic growth in the first quarter of 2011, recovering quickly from the crisis due to the robust involvement of the state. Ambassador Cohen professed his sentiment that “we all work to extend our multilateral trade relations” and that Macedonia and Israel “share a common set of values and interests.”

Israel is well known for its high-tech industry. Learning from the “Israeli success story” here was specified by speakers such as Ognen Orovcanec, President of the Assembly of the Macedonian-Israeli Business Club, who specified high-tech as one of the areas for future growth in Macedonian-Israeli cooperation.

In this light, Ambassador Cohen also pointed to the high level of R&D investment in Israel by many multinationals. Despite strong competition from Asian countries, many firms have established themselves in Israel, including Microsoft, IBM, Cisco and Dell. Being first in the world in R& investment, stated Cohen, “has made Israel a center of technology and innovation.” A result of this, he continued, is that many technological breakthroughs have been made by Israeli companies- like VOIP technology, which enables people to speak over the Internet.

Along with Macedonian and Israeli speakers, the business forum also included presentations from the president of the Kosovo Business Alliance, Agim Shahini, Enver Ferizaj of Albania’s KASH, and the vice-president of the Chamber of Commerce of Republika Srpska, Mihajlo Vidica.

These foreign guest presenters stressed business-friendly reforms made by their governments, such as favorable tax regimes, low-cost labor forces, infrastructure upgrades and opportunities in specific sectors such as agriculture. These points were also made in the Macedonian context by Ekaterina Dimitrovska, Executive Director of the Macedonian-Israeli Business Club. Dimitrovska also pointed out Macedonia’s recent track record as an internationally-recognized leading reformer, as well as its impending development of industrial zones around the country.

The major sponsor of the December 14th business forum was Crimson Capital, a finance corporation headquartered in Prague with offices in Skopje and Pristina. Speaking for, Managing Director Michael Gold discussed the company and its operations, explaining that it lends “to businesses which have a hard time getting money from the banks,” such as promising start-ups, women-owned companies and so on. For Mr Gold, small and developing countries such as Macedonian and Kosovo present unique opportunities for finance. For example, while 3% of these countries’ loan portfolios go to agriculture, “approximately 30% of our loans are dedicated to agriculture”- an area that will become more important as issues of food security grow more acute in the future.

According to Mr Gold, “the best opportunity for Macedonia to cooperate with Israeli companies is in terms of new technology and methods to improve productivity and quality, as well as marketing.” Pointing out that “a lot of companies are good at producing,” the Crimson Capital managing director noted however that “they don’t always know how to sell what they produce… the experience of Israel, which was challenged by a need to find markets, will be valuable for Macedonia.”

There are bound to be some positive surprises in the future, noted Mr Gold, who expressed his confidence, indicating that Macedonian companies have a lot of opportunities ahead. In general, “their capabilities are a lot greater than outsiders know- and greater than even they themselves know!”

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