Slovenia turning to Africa in effort to diversify exports

Brdo pri Kranju, 10 April (STA) - As Slovenia's exports are slowing down after a record 2018, the country has started looking to Africa for new business opportunities, government officials told a business internationalisation conference at Brdo pri Kranju on Wednesday.

Slovenia needs to diversify its exports to markets outside the EU and find niche markets for high-tech products and services, according to Economic Development and Technology Minister Zdravko Počivalšek.

This year, the ministry will provide EUR 9.7m in cohesion funds for this purpose, he added, noting that Slovenia was among the few EU countries that were net exporters, its exports amounting to EUR 38.8bn in 2018.

Trade grew by 10% last year, reaching EUR 74bn, with more than half of the figure generated in Austria, Croatia, France and Germany, said Počivalšek, underlining the need to diversify.

"Africa remains an unexplored market, especially sub-Saharan Africa," according to Dobran Božič, a state secretary at the Foreign Ministry, which provides support to companies branching out to foreign markets.

"Africa is developing fast and the needs of its developing economy are enormous." In Africa, it is key that the state opens doors to potential exporters, as this is a signal to future customers that these are serious companies with serious plans, said Božič.

Prime Minister Marjan Šarec also said that the state would continue to support the economy by opening doors to foreign markets. But the government cannot do everything, he said, underlining the importance of cooperation and good organisation as well as the need to be proactive.

Africa has a population of one billion and a number of countries making a significant amount of investments, added Počivalšek. "The companies that have not yet entered Africa have missed a business opportunity."

Export diversification seems even more necessary in the face of Brexit, although a Brexit risk study for Slovenia shows that the country would only face problems in the case of a no-deal Brexit, according to Počivalšek.

But even in this worst-case scenario, the situation would stabilise after an initial shock following the UK's exit from the EU, according to the minister.