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Yugoslavia: U.S. To Assess Balkan Economic Needs

The U.S. is sending a senior trade official to the Balkans to assess the economic needs of the region. RFE/RL correspondent Andrew F. Tully takes a look at the upcoming mission.

Washington, 10 September 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The United States is sending a high-level trade delegation to the Balkans to assess the region's needs after the Kosovo conflict and to explore American investment opportunities there.

David Aaron, undersecretary of commerce for international trade, said Thursday at a Washington news conference that he will pay particular attention to encouraging a fight against corruption. Without free and open competition, Aaron says, Balkan nations cannot hope to attract investment from the United States or other industrialized countries.

He says that his delegation will take a regional view, rather than assess the need of each country individually. The entire region, not just Kosovo, Aaron says, needs enormous economic development and rehabilitation.

The under secretary says companies both big and small recently expressed interest in investing in the region.

He said: "Now, we had a conference about, I think, two months ago, at the beginning of the summer, where we had 200 U.S. companies come to the Commerce Department expressing interest in the rebuilding of Southeast Europe. So the interest is out there, from big companies, you know, like some of the ones I mentioned, Enron (energy company) and Bechtel (construction) and Parsons (high tech) and so forth. Two, smaller companies have seen an opportunity, for example, in providing water-treatment facilities, purification, that sort of thing, which, in the case of Kosovo, could be an important market. So, there's a range of companies, there's a range of opportunities. The purpose of my mission is to get a clear picture of what those are."

Aaron also says the United States hopes to provide economic assistance to Macedonia and Romania for their support of NATO's bombing campaign against Yugoslavia. He noted that both countries suffered serious economic harm because of their support. Washington proposes eliminating quotas on wool attire made in these two nations as long as it is made of fabric from the United States.

The under secretary notes that in 1998, Macedonia and Romania together exported more than $100 million worth of wool fabrics to the United States. He says the lifting of the quotas, if approved by the U.S. Congress, would help both the American wool industry as well as stimulate economic growth in the two Balkan states.

Aaron's delegation will be in Kosovo, Croatia and Macedonia from September 19 to 21.