UPDATES WITH KEYNOTE SPEECHES…
By Talha Ozturk
BELGRADE, Serbia (AA) – The ninth Sarajevo Business Forum (SBF) began Wednesday in the Bosnian capital with Turkey playing a prominent role.
Dubbed the "Balkan Davos", the event will focus on expanding regional economic cooperation and attracting international investment to Southeast Europe.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek features among this year's speakers.
Simsek said that Turkey encourages its people to invest in Bosnia because of its long term prospects.
“We encourage our companies to come and invest here because we do believe in this county's long term prospects. I think there are huge investment opportunities. Turkish firms have invested $35 billion abroad over the last decade. So I think it’s very important that we continue to work together to encourage more investment into Bosnia and Herzegovina.
"I just heard that Bosnia Herzegovina is actually one of the least leveraged countries, which is yet another reason why we should have confidence in the future of this country. I heard great potentials in energy, agriculture and tourism. There is a huge opportunity here. My government, my country is committed to the stable prospering of peaceful Balkan nations," said Simsek.
Speaking about tourism, Simsek said he was delighted to have learned that Turkish people accounted for more than 7 percent of all tourist arrivals in Bosnia.
"In fact, if you exclude your neighbors, Turks look like number one visitors. This is really important because that would help strengthen the people-to-people relationship," Simsek noted.
Simsek backed Bosnia’s continuation of its EU and NATO accession processes.
"It is also important for this beautiful country to continue strengthening its EU accession prospects because that would be one of the main drivers of investment into it. We strongly support Bosnia Herzegovina’s ambitions to join NATO and also to join the EU," said Simsek.
The inauguration of the business forum was attended by members of the Presidency of Bosnia, Slovenian President Borut Pahor, and ministers from Serbia, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and Morocco.
The Bosniak member of the Bosnian Presidency, Bakir Izetbegovic, said that during the nine years of the Sarajevo Business Forum so far, successful investments had been made, which contributed to Bosnia’s becoming an attractive place for investors.
"Bosnia Herzegovina is the meeting point of business people from the East and the West. It is also the center of Southeast European. The representatives of the neighboring countries also showed that we could join this organization and create business alliance opportunities. When we consider these things, it is now time to come to Bosnia for investment. Today's efforts will pay off in the near future. I believe that industry leaders see that it is the right time," said Izetbegovic.
Rasim Ljalic, Serbia’s deputy prime minister and minister of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications, said that because of politics, the economic integration of the region had been in stagnation.
According to him, the economic integration of this region is a source of concern politically and economically.
"Politically, because we are still dealing with the consequences of wars and unresolved issues of the 1990s. There are many open issues between the countries of this region, from the fact that the borders are still disputed, to all other issues that make it more difficult to establish full political stability in this region," said Ljajic.
Regarding the economic reasons for concern, Ljalic said that the economic recovery of the region should be based on investments in infrastructure.
"We are disastrous when it comes to infrastructure. We are fifty percent lower than the EU average. When we talk about the development of infrastructure, we need 33 years if we continue at this current pace of investment to achieve what the EU has done to date. Therefore, it is up to us to decide whether the region will be a zone of conflicts as in the past, or a zone of investment. I hope that this investment will overcome the belief that this will be an area worth investing in,” Ljajic said.
Amer Bukvic, the organizer of the event and the CEO of Bosna Bank International, called on the participants to unite for a brighter future.
"I invite all participants to unite in order to strengthen the cooperation and use the comparative advantages of each country for a better future in Southeast Europe and the world. Together we can strengthen this region, create success for our international partners and provide the next generation with the opportunity to build a better and brighter future," Bukvic said.
Anadolu Agency is the global communications partner for the two-day event.
On the first day, successful entrepreneurs will be presented with the Sarajevo Business Bridge Award. Panels titled "Western Balkans: Six Regional Economic Sectors – Developing with the EU" and "Southeast European International Gateways and Connections" will also be held.
The former Croatian president, Stjepan Mesic, and Valdis Zatlers, former Latvian leader, are to address the participants.
On the second day, panels will be held on "Tourism as a Quick Growth for Southeast Europe", "Impact on EU Supply Chain and Western Balkan Companies", "Capitalization in Information Technology and Socioeconomic Trends in Southeast Europe", and "Dubai as an Economic Development Model for Other Regions".
The event hosts about 8,000 participants from different countries.
The forum has been held since 2010 in a collaborative effort by Bosna Bank International and Jeddah-based Islamic Development Bank.
Since then, it has been attended by top officials from around the globe. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, former Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Muhammad, Serbian leader Aleksandar Vucic as well as ministers from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar are some of those who have attended the forum so far.