Maria Livanos Cattaui: Bulgaria is Better than the Region

Novinite Insider » INTERVIEW | December 6, 2005, Tuesday // 00:00
Maria Livanos Cattaui: Bulgaria is Better than the Region Photo by Yuliana Nikolova (Sofia News Agency)

Maria Livanos Cattaui was Secretary General of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) from 1996 to July 2005. On that position she has successfully organized the 32nd World Congress in Shanghai, which was attended by business leaders from all over the world.

In a meeting at the United Nations in New York, Mrs. Cattaui was instrumental in establishing a close global partnership to secure greater business input into UN activities. Additionally, Mrs. Cattaui supervised preparations for the Geneva Business Dialogue in 1998, designed to build cooperation between business and governments in meeting the challenges of globalization.

Before joining ICC, Mrs. Cattaui worked with the World Economic Forum in Geneva from 1977 to 1996, where she quickly rose through the organization to become a member of the Executive Board, then Managing Director.

Mrs. Cattaui serves also on the boards of the International Youth Foundation, the International Crisis Group, the International Centre for Research on Women, the Council of Women World Leaders, the Center for Strategic & International Studies, the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University and several other organizations. She graduated from Harvard University and joined the Board of Trustees of the Institute of International Education in October 1998.

In a series of meetings with Bulgaria's EU-Affairs Minister Meglena Kuneva, Deputy Economy Minister Nina Radeva and Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Evgenia Koldanova, Mrs. Cattaui discussed the perspectives and possibilities for Bulgaria's economic development in view with the forthcoming accession to the EU.

In the middle of her busy agenda meeting Bulgarian politicians and businessmen, Maria Livanos Cattaui talked to Ivelina Puhaleva, Editor of Sofia News Agency. In the following interview questions of other media are also included.

Q: What are the purposes of your visit in Bulgaria?

A: I don't have any earth-quaking news. But I have a few messages to discuss here and I am also to bring the view of your friends outside.

Q: What about are those ideas?

A: The biggest question is competition. It has to be one of the first concerns of economic and business leaders. We have already suffered the harsh blow of globalization; but once it's here, let's face it and deal with it.

In my lecture to Bulgarian businesses, I have delivered several key messages referring to: the role of domestic investment, the environment for entrepreneurial activity, dangers of overregulation, aspects of privatization, difficulties for Bulgaria and its young generation for the development of economy.

Q: Would you give any advice to Bulgarian farmers how to act at the forthcoming WTO conference in Hong Kong?

A: I'm a maverick and have a different point of view on this issue, so I would refrain from admonishing whatsoever. May be I would just point out the fact the developing countries have not succeeded in the WTO negotiations and so they'd lose most, unless a sustainable WTO agreement is reached.

There is a great mythology here for the least developed countries do have full access to the common EU market. The problem is they do not have the products of required quality to sell to the EU, nor with the necessary infrastructure to sell it out.

Here comes our forefront task to assist to the least developed countries to make them able to trade those products and have those means, including infrastructure.

Q: You've met with the Bulgarian Industry and Trade Chamber, the Bulgarian Commerce Chamber, the Bulgarian International Business Association (BIBA) and the American Trade Chamber here. What have you discussed with them?

A: I have brought some ideas to Bulgarian business organisations in their work. There were certain areas I have addressed during my meetings here.

It is necessary that entrepreneurial organizations press constantly Bulgarian government for cutting the red tape and limiting practices of licensing and permit requirements.

The bad news is that, on the average, in Bulgaria it takes 212 days annually to secure a business all necessary licenses and permits, to make 24 different steps and exhausts 325% of available capitals (per capita).

The good news is that Bulgaria is far better than the region. Yes, there are a lot of obstacles on this way, but Bulgaria has also many advantages.

According to a recent World Bank study, as per aggregate economic indicators, Bulgaria occupies 60th position - far behind Estonia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, but also is in the forefront of Italy, Greece, Romania and Russia.

The way to get more competitive goes through bringing more clarity and efficiency to administrative procedures, simplifying taxation rules and opening the market for free competition.

Q: Have you provided any specific ideas about facilitating business opportunities for vulnerable social groups in Bulgaria, such as youth and elderly people, disadvantaged persons?

A: Bulgaria's young people have impressed me with excellent technical skills. What they need attention and care for are their managerial skills.

I would put the answer to your question in a different context. Generally, there are awfully lots of impediments to start a new business here. I believe once those are removed for all business actors, it would reflect positively also on the groups you asked about.

Economically, it would cost little money to remove obstacles in general than to apply specific - and thus costlier - measures to smaller segments. The stimulus for economic development helps more for the common development.

I am pleading for an open competitive environment to give equally free access to those in a marginalized position. Healthy societies around the world are those taking care that disadvantaged groups and young people share equally free access to local business environment as other business actors.

I would also point out that when talking about lifting the trade barriers and working for an open environment, I am in no way advocating disrespect for the law.

Q: In your opinion, are Bulgarian businesses competitive enough to enter the European market?

A: Who knows. It's up to the businesses themselves. We've seen businesses disappear overnight. We have also examples of strong international companies that are highly competitive but outside their national borders, for example Italy, Germany, France.

Let's not forget that countries do not compete; it's companies that compete. Countries can be helpful for their firms to be more competitive but they cannot do the job for them.

We need your support so can keep delivering news and information about Bulgaria! Thank you!

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