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Yugoslavia: Belgrade Joins OECD Investment Conference For First Time

A key factor in determining how quickly Yugoslavia can rebuild its shattered economy in the aftermath of ousted leader Slobodan Milosevic's regime is the country's ability to attract a steady flow of investment from abroad. A conference in Austria this week is focusing on changes that need to be made to attract more investment -- not just in Yugoslavia, but in all of southeastern Europe. RFE/RL's Ron Synovitz reports from Prague.

Prague, 9 November 2000 (RFE/RL) -- An economic conference in Vienna this week marks the first time that government officials from Yugoslavia are participating in an international forum aimed at improving direct foreign investment in the Balkans.

The two-day event, which concludes today, is part of the Balkan Stability Pact initiative. It has been co-organized by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD, together with the Austrian government.

OECD spokesman Nicholas Bray told RFE/RL that the meeting is aimed at helping government officials from across the Balkans to better understand how new policies can contribute to reconstruction of the region.

"This meeting is bringing together government officials, business people, investor representatives, and international organizations that are trying to help sort out the problems of the region. The purpose of the conference is to take an overall view of the situation, try to identify specific problems, and then to propose ways of addressing those hurdles."

Bray says the conference is focusing on three areas where government policy can improve the environment for direct foreign investment. He said one key area is the formulation of a proper regulatory environment that encourages investment.

"There's a whole range of legal issues that need to be addressed. They cover such things as bankruptcy law. Under the old Communist regime, companies in these countries went on existing, went on accumulating debts and eventually became a great burden on the economy. These countries, until now, in many cases, simply have not had any concept of bankruptcy. That's the kind of rule of law that is very much needed in a commercial environment. Another example would be the enforcement of contracts."

The improvement of infrastructure is another issue being examined by delegates at the event. Upgrading of telecommunications and airports is seen as particularly essential to bettering business conditions and attracting more foreign investors. Delegates says the improvement of rail and road connections also needs to be pursued in a cooperative way, treating Balkan transport regionally rather than nationally.

Measures that improve the education and training of the work force in each Balkan country are also being discussed.

Altogether, about 100 delegates are participating in the Vienna conference. In addition to government officials from Balkan countries, the meeting is being attended by Austria's federal minister for economic affairs and labor, OECD Deputy Secretary-General Seiichi Kondo and U.S. ambassador Richard Sklar, who is Washington's special representative for the Southeast Europe Initiative.

Most of the delegates from the private sector are from European Union countries, but there are also business representatives from the United States.

Bray says that Balkan leaders will study the views of international institutions, Western governments and private foreign business leaders. It will then be up to each of them to decide how to implement the policies that could bring more investment.