Ladies and gentlemen,
The economic co-operation of the Nordic countries and Croatia is the topic of the Nordic Days, a business forum organised by the Embassies of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden in Zagreb.
Due to the diversity of the countries, economic co-operation between the Nordic countries and Croatia as well as European integration processes have several aspects. Briefly, these groups of countries are not homogeneous.
Sweden, Finland and Denmark are, for example, full-fledged members of the European Union, but Sweden and Denmark have not joined the European Monetary Union (EMU).
Finland is a member of the euro-area. Norway and Iceland are not members of the EU, but are members of EFTA.
However, all the countries are members of the single European Economic Area.
This makes the situation in the Nordic countries very specific, both from the aspect of European integration and establishment of economic links and co-operation.
Finland and Sweden belong to the group of countries having the most competitive economies in the world.
At the same time, all Nordic countries have, through their social model, ensured a very high level of "social solidarity", which is collectively termed the "European social-market model".
Nordic countries, the economies of Northern Europe, are also facing certain economic problems: relation to the European integration processes; pressures for reforms of the welfare state; and immigration problems.
However, I am confident that they will find adequate solutions to these problems.
For that matter, I would like, on this occasion, to highlight the Finnish and Swedish model of economic development policy as very enlightening for small and open economies such as Croatia's today.
This is the social-economic model that we also wish to develop in Croatia!
After all, all Nordic countries have been achieving economic growth under the circumstances of macroeconomic stability and developed social solidarity.
Economic co-operation between Croatia and the Nordic countries has been developing on a bilateral level and also through international integrations (EU and EFTA).
Croatia has special trade and customs arrangements with the European Union and EFTA!
These treaties provide us with a good framework for strengthening economic co-operation.
Of course, concrete business deals have to be made between business people, Croatian and Nordic companies, and this is the reason why I consider business forums like this one today especially useful for developing economic co-operation among our states.
The main topic of this forum is dedicated to "Food and Food Processing Industry" with the aim of linking Croatian companies through trade with companies from Nordic countries. I consider this to be an excellent idea!
It is estimated that this year the value of Croatian food imports will reach approximately 1.4 billion US dollars, which is a record amount since Croatia's independence!
Croatia is one of the few countries in Europe to import milk while it has all conditions to meet its own needs for milk through its own production! A similar situation occurs with meat production!
After all, the 2003 Agricultural Census of the Central Bureau of Statistics of the Republic of Croatia shows that, according to all major indicators, Croatian agricultural production has been lagging behind substantially over the past 20 years!
According to latest data of the Croatian Chamber of Commerce, exports of agricultural and food products have been reduced to a worrisome level while exports have grown at a hurried pace.
These trends in the agricultural production, imports and exports of food products have to radically change!
Our attitude to agriculture, to the Croatian village and to Croatian farmers has to change!
A modern Croatian food processing industry based of domestic agricultural production rather then on food imports has to be developed!
We have to become a country of healthy foods, ecologically clean foods that are our "competitive advantage" on the EU market.
Croatia has extensive farmlands that were mined during the war. A part of them has been already cleared of mines, and a part of them is in the process of clearing. The point is that these farmlands have not been treated by chemicals and thus represent a huge potential for the production of ecologically clean foods and can be a competitive advantage of Croatian agricultural production on European and global markets.
Therefore, I find it very useful for our companies to establish business links in order to exploit your valuable experience for stimulating a modern intensive agricultural production as well as exports of agricultural and food products.
Finally, all this points to the importance of your initiative and I am confident that the Minister of Agriculture of the Republic of Croatia who is with us here fully agrees with what I have stated.
I would like to conclude by thanking the organisers of this Forum for their kind invitation to me to participate and hold a brief introductory address.
I think that each new conference will bring more results because the most important thing is to link people together and then when they meet and get to know each other they will be able to co-operate better.