Put Your Fears Aside And Your Money Here, Ukraine Tells Foreign Investors

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine’s new leadership Thursday will kick off an intensive two-day marketing campaign as it tries to convince foreign investors to put aside their fears and invest in the ex-Soviet nation now set on a pro-Western course.

Some 250 business and political heavyweights — including presidents of seven countries — converge on Kiev Thursday for a conference organized by the World Economic Forum that has been dubbed a “mini-Davos.”

President Viktor Yushchenko

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko — a former central banker who last year won a protracted vote on promises to Westernize the strategic former Soviet republic of 48 million — hopes the gathering will jumpstart investment that the ailing economy badly needs.

“Ukraine has unique potential, profitable enterprises and entire industries — aviation and shipbuilding, high-tech and transportation — that can become the real trailblazers of the Ukrainian economy and a real “Klondike’ for foreign investors,” he was quoted as saying in an interview with the WEF posted on its website.

Yushchenko is due to address the gathering late Thursday.

Helping him carry the message will be leaders of other former Soviet-bloc nations that firmly back Yushchenko’s vow to bring Ukraine out from its centuries-old domination by Moscow and turn it toward the West — the presidents of Estonia, Georgia, Lithuania, Moldova and Poland are all due to attend the two-day forum in central Kiev. Azeri President Ilham Aliyev is also expected to attend.

But Yushchenko and his team face an uphill battle.

“The investment climate is really bad. It stinks,” said Olivier Descamps, a director at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), in another interview posted on the WEF’s website.

The list of ills ailing the Ukrainian economy is long — corruption, bloated bureaucracy, confusing legislation, an antiquated banking system.

Indeed Ukraine came 86th on a recent list that ranked 104 countries for their competitiveness, with tax regulations, corruption and tax rates the largest obstacles to doing business, according to a WEF study.

And although investors welcomed Yushchenko’s victory late last year and his promises to make the economy and the running of business more transparent, many are waiting for concrete results before putting their money on the table.

Nevertheless, some are already taking the plunge — one Russian investment bank has just set up shop in Kiev and another one plans to do so in a few months, a French firm has agreed in principle to build roads in Ukraine and Kazakhstan is interested in helping build a section of a strategic oil pipeline.

Ukrainian officials hope that the two-day roundtable in Kiev will spark more of the same.

“The forum is not an investment fair,” Volodymyr Ignashchenko, a deputy minister of economics, said this week. “But we hope that informal contacts made during it... will boost contacts between the leaders of Ukraine’s business community and the leaders of the world’s financial and industrial communities.”

Source: AFP