Mobilising Private Sector Investment in Belarus, Moldova & Ukraine

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Having taken over a difficult role in April 2017, Jason Pellmar, head of the Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova regional office of the International Finance Corporation, the private sector arm of the World Bank Group, talks to Andrew Wrobel about the opportunities offered by the three countries, and some of the challenges he may face.

How do you see the current situation in both Belarus and Ukraine?

What I have seen so far, and I have been in the role for just over six months, is that if IFC is going to be successful in these markets, measured by mobilising private sector investment, we’re going to have to see significant improvement in governance, and this is where we need to be directly involved. Over the years, we have been successful in many sectors in Ukraine and Belarus, often in fields that do indeed need government support — infrastructure for example — where active government involvement is essential.

Then there are other areas that are less dependent on direct government involvement, and Ukraine’s agribusiness is a good example of where the bulk of our portfolio has been historically. Agriculture is the growth engine of Ukraine, and it makes perfect sense that a good percentage of our focus and attention has been in this area, where you have good local companies that are creating jobs and helping build out ancillary infrastructure to bring in further investment.

jason pellman
Jason Pellmar (source: IFC)

Do you think that the reforms that are needed in the three countries you cover are not really being introduced fast enough?

In Ukraine you’ve had a massive banking crisis, and the central bank stepped in, did things by the book and saved the sector. They did the right thing nationalising, for example, PrivatBank, which restored confidence in the sector. In the energy sector, you had Naftogaz which was a huge drain on the government budget, and which now not only breaks even, but I believe is actually in the black. Of course, there are still issues, and I don’t want to overplay the reforms. Good work, however, has been done and should be acknowledged.

If we want to speak seriously about how an institution like IFC could be helpful in these markets, one is state-owned enterprise corporatisation, avoiding the drag on the economy and using them as a way of bringing in the necessary expertise. When we say corporatisation, it’s not only about improving operations, it’s also about improving corporate governance. It’s improving environmental and social policies. Privatisation is the next step for some of these SOEs, particularly those that have the most potential and would be of interest to the large, regional and global strategic players to bring in FDI.

Well, both countries need more FDI. In which areas can we bring foreign investors relatively quickly?

We need to make sure that we have alignment, and that we’re choosing the right assets that the government would be willing to privatise. It’s choosing those assets that have commercial potential, and will be of interest to the strategic investors coming from the region and abroad. In Ukraine, in particular, my primary focus is on state-owned banks. The government recognises that this is a burden on their budget. The Ministry of Finance controls over 50% of the sector at the moment, and that’s not in their interest. They have other objectives.

There’s again a clear alignment. What’s holding back the privatisation from happening in this case is not therefore the government or the private sector, it’s the sector, its specific issues themselves. This is where the World Bank Group and IFC are helping the government in promoting sector reforms that will make these assets more attractive.  We have already partnered with Ukrgasbank, the fourth-largest state-owned bank, to help set the stage for its privatisation.  In November, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding to help the bank strengthen its corporate governance, ensure its operational autonomy and refine its commercially-driven banking model.

Again, bearing both the government and the private banks in mind, these are things that will be in everyone’s interest. If we improve the sector, then not only will you have more interested bidders, but you’ll be pushing up the valuations of these banks because the bidding investors will have more confidence that the sector is heading in the right direction. For example, it’s the non-performing loans in the banking sector which are paramount. It’s tax, the judiciary, the legal that needs to get resolved before you start seeing results.

Let’s take a look at Belarus for a moment. What are currently the biggest challenges there?

Bringing Ukraine back into the picture briefly, both economies are state-dominated, and in Belarus it’s even more pronounced where you have approximately 70 per cent of the economy in in the state’s hands. In Ukraine, it’s around 50 per cent. Therein lies the challenge. How do we get the private sector to really take the lead?

In Belarus, we are seeing movement. I have been to Belarus probably four or five times in the past months, and the discussions that I’m having with the political leadership there is an acknowledgement that the government can’t go it alone, that they will need the help of the private sector. The way that I see we can help them is first and foremost to create an investment climate. It’s similar to the discussion that we just had on Ukraine. What do we need to do to bring in strategic investors into Belarus? It’s regulatory reform. We are engaged. We have a large programme of advisory colleagues there assisting the government, the various ministries on helping them implement these reforms so that we can see more private sector investment.

The way I see us being engaged in Belarus today is largely through the banking sector. I referred to trade finance lines that support the foreign trade, and this is a priority of the government. We really need to build up small and medium-sized enterprises. Because I think there’s a recognition that this will be the growth engine of the economy going forward, as they create jobs.

Emerging Europe did a Special Report on Belarus in 2016. We were hoping for more change. Do you think that there has been any movement over the last 12 months in Belarus?

Well, I’ve only been in the role for six months but in those six months, to be frank, I have seen improvement. The dialogue that we’re having with the government I think is real. I think that the leadership of the country recognises that the SMEs cannot be neglected. Given that, yes, there has been movement and I expect to see further movement. For example, last month a key legislation was approved in Belarus that is expected to reduce red tape for businesses.

I first met the then Minister of Economy of Belarus, Nikolai Snopkov, three and a half years ago now. I remember I talked about the private sector with him and he was already happy that it accounted for 25 per cent, maybe 30 per cent, of the economy. But this was three years ago.

I would challenge you a bit on that point because I think that the economy hasn’t been fair on Belarus. Some of the improvements that they have made were overshadowed by the fact that the country was just coming out of recession, and you had a number of SMEs that were being liquidated. The so-called entrepreneur category, these guys were thrown out of business not because of government inaction, but because they couldn’t withstand the fact that the economy was under a great deal of pressure. I think SMEs actually represent one of the bright spots in Belarus.

Jason Pellmar (source: IFC)

If the SME sector is one of the brightest spots, what are the largest challenges when it comes to Belarus right now?

One of the challenges is that Belarus is not really on the investors’ map. It’s a small economy. It’s a country of 10 million people, and in some respects the economy is linked to the Russian economy. Part of it is to be honest with the branding. We need to help Belarus put itself back on the radar screen of strategic investors. I just had meetings yesterday with a very large manufacturing company that is keen to come to Belarus. They’ve been active for some time. There is interest, but I think we will have to help Belarus again attract the right investors. One is just, again, demonstrating that Belarus is open to foreign investment, which isn’t necessarily readily apparent to large strategic investors.

The second is access to finance. Belarus recently had a successful Euro bond, which is great, and that does give them additional clout in the international marketplace. The buyers of this bond are US and European investors. That’s a great first step. How do we build upon that and make sure that the SMEs and other larger enterprises have access to capital to grow?

Further to that, making sure that Belarus companies are able to expand because, as we discussed, Belarus itself is a small market. Can we help some of the Belarus enterprises access other markets? That’s another area that IFC is actively engaged in.

Let’s look south again, to Moldova. Where do you think Moldova is standing right now?

Similar challenges as for Ukraine and Belarus, such as governance, Moldova is in need of some country branding. They’ve been through a number of recent scandals. But that being said, educating myself and speaking with colleagues on where the opportunities and the challenges lie, I think the banking sector is one area where they need the support of IFC.

They’ve taken the necessary steps to address some of the issues, but how do we bring in additional access to finance? How do we restore confidence in the sector? That’s one area where I see opportunity. I think in Moldova, again, similar to Belarus and Ukraine, how do we enhance the role of the private sector in the economy?

Moldova has a relatively well-established agricultural sector, that’s one area where we’ve historically been engaged, and I think we can increase our engagement. The economy is already in recovery stage. The government has acted to address some of the issues that they’re contending with, especially in the banking sector. I think this is a good opportunity for IFC to re-engage and help bring in the private sector into these areas like agriculture and banking.

Ukraine’s economy grew by 2.4 percent in the first half of 2017, Belarus — by 1 per cent and Moldova — by 2.8 per cent. How do you see the growth in this year and next year?

The economies of this sub-region are picking up. All three countries have similar challenges in the sense that to really unlock potential we will need to see reforms in key sectors of the economy. The private sector is engaged, but there could be a far greater level of engagement.

IFC is keen to support these reforms, and the IFC is actively providing advisory support and investment in all three economies. We want to scale the extent of this engagement to a much different level, and that’s how I see my role in this new assignment. I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen over the past months, so I would expect that when we have our next discussion we’ll have many success stories to share with you.

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Industrial concept. Liquid gas container. Gas storage in the port. Pipelines in the refinery

Ukraine’s Economic Recovery: Good, But Slow

ukraine money

More EU Help for Belarus SMEs

GRODNO BELARUS - DECEMBER 13 2013: Seamstress in textile factory sewing with a industrial sewing machine .

Polish Labour Market Deficits Are Impacting All

Construction site with crane and building. Construction site in western europe - in Poland.

Minsk International Airport Widens its International Reach

Belavia

Bringing Belarus’ Cultural Past to Life for Belarusians and the World

Go East

Young Georgians Make Their Mark at Emerging Europe-EBRD Event

maximilien lambertson at emergeing ebrd outlook on georgia

Economic Confidence Rises Across Eurozone

Košice Business Matchmaking Event Brings in Hungarians

kosice, slovakia

Macedonia — Stepping Out Of the Shadow Of the Balkans

Western Ukraine Could Be an Entry Point into the Country

Romanian Transport Infrastructure Failures Pile Up

Cernavoda Romania - June 20 2012: Construction works at the A2 highway connecting Romania's capital Bucharest to Constanta.

Emerging Europe Back on Track to Convergence

wiiw

Ukraine’s Finance Ministry Wants Urgent Tax Reform

Feel the Vibe of the City of Minsk

Trinity suburb in Minsk (Nemiga) Belarus on 20 May 2017

Poland’s New PM Defends Attacks on Justice System

warsaw supreme court

Romanian Cyber Security Firm Valued at 600 million US dollars in Private Equity Swoop

cyber security

Belarus Introduces New Business-Friendly Auditing Procedures

MINSK, BELARUS - AUGUST 15, 2016: Aerial view of the southwestern part of the Minsk with Palace of Sport and old and new other buildings. Minsk is the capital and largest city of Belarus.

Putin Urges Belarus to End Oil Transit Through Lithuania

Athens Greece - May 27 2016: Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers

The Country Shows Promise but Needs Some Reforms

Cautious Upturn in Emerging Europe Haunted by the Spectre of Uncertainty

Donald Trump

Will European Business and Institutions Bolster the New Trends That Have Appeared in Belarus?

CEE Boosted by Positive Tourism Trends Across the Region

cruise ship in Kotor Bay Montenegro. Aerial view panorama. Kotor bay Montenegro.

EU Triggers Article 7 Against Poland

CRACOW POLAND - JULY 23 2017: Another day in Cracow thousands of people protest against violation the constitutional law in Poland. Defense of the triad of division of power free election and independence of the highest court in Poland

Emerging Europe and the EBRD host the Outlook on Belarus conference in London

Double Ratings Agency Boost for Bulgaria

Mixed Results for Emerging Europe in New WEF Equality Report

wef

Warsaw Rising: The Polish Capital’s Skyline Gets Even Taller

varso

All for One, and One for All

GE

Fish in the Bath and Other Christmas Traditions

Christmas Market On The Dome Square With Riga Dome Cathedral In Riga, Latvia. Christmas Tree And Trading Houses With Sale Of Christmas Gifts, Sweets And Mulled Wine. Famous Landmark.

Retail Rents Rise Across Emerging Europe

Na Prikope Prague

Belarus Has To Make an Extra Effort To Change Investors’ Perceptions

Why the Baltic States Should Reject the Nanny State

man smoking a cigarette Cigarette smoking Cigarette with smoke

Ask for Georgian Campaign Set to Expand Abroad

Traditional Georgian carpet. Carpets with typical geometrical patterns are among the most famous products of Georgia.

Investment in Croatia’s Regions Key to Further Development

CAKOVEC, CROATIA - JULY 02: Parish Church of Saint Nicholas in Cakovec, Croatia, on July 02, 2016.

Is the CEE Region About to Steal the Outsourcing Crown From India?

Amazing view on the Taj Mahal in sunset light with reflection in water. The Taj Mahal is an ivory-white marble mausoleum on the south bank of the Yamuna river. Agra Uttar Pradesh India.

Germany Is Not Letting Belarus’ Small Downturns Put it off Looking for Investment Opportunities

Albania’s Economy Booms Despite Political Infighting

Panorama view to the city Tirana Albania

Georgia Leads Emerging Europe in Ease of Doing Business Report

Belarus is Bringing Opportunities for European Companies

Great Stone

Belarus: On the Way to a Market Economy?

A Risky Evaluation of Croatia’s Economy?

ZAGREB, CROATIA - JULY 17, 2017: Square Ban Josip Jelacic with tourists and trams on a summer day in Zagreb. City of Zagreb is the capital of Croatia.

IMF: Institutions Key to Sustainable Growth

IMF

Kraków: Officially Emerging Europe’s Most Elegant City

Krakow. Image of Krakow Market square, Poland during sunrise.

Slovakia: Growth Continues But Problems Remain

Office Space Vacancy is Currently Low but Building Standards Cause Concern

Minsk Belarus - March 23 2017 modern architecture business center Pokrovsky on Pobediteley Avenue editorial

The essence of the Customs Union is protectionism

Under Promise, Over Deliver: Prospects for the EU’s Eastern Partnership in 2018

Eastern partnership

Fitch And the World Bank: Economic Growth To Remain Solid Within CEE In 2016

Poland’s Q2 2017 Growth Is Stronger Than Expected

WARSAW, POLAND - MAY 07, 2016: Building Palace of Culture and Science among the modern buildings of the city

IMF Believes State-Owned Enterprises Must Be Reformed

Image of the banknotes of new Belarusian banknotes five rubles put into circulation July 1 2016

Romanian President Appoints Country’s First Female PM

viorica dancila prime minister of romania

The EU’s Benign Neglect Of Eastern Europe

Mayor: Armenia And Its Capital Yerevan Offer Safe Investment And Tourism To a Growing World

IMF Wants Banking Sector Reform in Western Balkans

croatia national bank

Czech Republic Raises Interest Rates

czech koruna

Belarusian Journalists Still Face Huge Problems

Investigations Into the Corrupt Ukrainian Fuel and Energy Sectors

Ukrainian money hryvnia. The national currency. Corruption in Ukraine

Bulgaria Takes on EU Presidency

Sofia, Bulgaria - September 12, 2017: Architectural complex in downtown of Sofia in which the Presidential Administration is located, Sofia, Bulgaria

Chickens Blamed for Romanian Budget Deficit

Two white chickens or hens inside a chicken coop or hen house seen through chicken wire.

Wizz Air in Huge Polish & Ukrainian Expansion

wizz air a320

Romania Can Still Provide Stability Within the EU

BUCHAREST, ROMANIA - 05 February 2017: More than 240,000 protesters in Victory Square (Piata Victoriei). "Torches" moment. At 09:00PM Romanian protesters shone torches on their phones.

Meghri Becomes Armenia’s Third FEZ

armenia emerging europe

OECD: Belarus Has to Find Its Own Belarusian Model to Emerge

Growth Continues for State-Owned Azerbaijan Airlines

Azerbaijan Baku - September 16 2015: View of the Heydar Aliyev International Airport sign in Baku Azerbaijan. The airport is the home of Azerbaijan Airlines the national flag carrier.

Next Christmas in Belgrade? The EU’s Move into the Western Balkans

Belgrade, Serbia, July 22, 2017.Belgrade cityscape at sunset with national assembly, aerial view

Investors Eye Opportunities in Emerging European Infrastructure

infrastructure

Bulgarian Capital Pulls Above Its Weight

sofia

How Did We Get Here?

Amazing Panorama to City of Plovdiv from nebet tepe hill, Bulgaria

A New Modern Mall Hopes to Draw Belarusians Back to the Home Market

RRY Capital

Romania’s PM Resigns

BUCHAREST ROMANIA - June 29 2017: Romanian Prime Minister Mihai Tudose during a swearing-in ceremony at Cotroceni palace in Bucharest capital of Romania June 29 2017.

e-Estonia: Believe the Hype

Skiing in Emerging Europe

gudauri ski georgia

Poland Stays Cool on Euro Adoption

Euro cash and Zloty on one photo.

Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey Launch New ‘Silk Rail’ Link

The Next Four Months Crucial For the Belarus-EU Relations

Smart, reliable and promising

New investors interested in Belarus’ Great Stone Industrial Park

Belarus Is One of the Top Outsourcing Destinations of 2016

Valga and Valka – Where Estonia and Latvia Work Together

Valga valka emerging europe

The Great Stone Industrial Park — Making Doing Business Easy in Minsk

Georgia’s Great Potential

The highland agriculture lands in Gudauri with the herd of sheep grazing here Georgia.

EY: Belarus’ IT Scene Is Thriving

High tech park minsk

Czech Land Prices Continue to Increase

farm land

Serbia, Belarus and Ukraine Ranked Lowly by Wharton Business School

Kyiv Ukraine - April 172017: The postal square in Kiev on Podol the Dnipro river. view of the square from the river panorama

Is Prague the New Face of Overtourism?

prague tourists

Italy and Belarus: A Relationship Based on Complementarities and History

Bucharest’s Stock Exchange Reports Growth; Eyes Emerging Market Status

bucharest stock exchange

Not All Quiet on the Eastern Front

Investors in Poland Unfazed By Article 7

Warsaw EBRD annual meeting

Slowly, Tech Brand Belarus Emerges

belarus tech

GSA Names Ukraine as UK’s Offshoring Destination of the Year

map of ukraine emerging europe

Hungary Today: Potential and Challenge

Chain bridge on Danube river in Budapest city. Hungary. Urban landscape panorama with old buildings and domes of opera

‘Traditional Values’: A Potent Weapon Against LGBT Rights

gay rights putin

Why Emerging Europe is the New Darling of Outsourcing

outsourcing Developing programming and coding technologies. Website design. Cyber space concept.

Slovenia: Emerging Europe’s Hidden Giant

ljubljana slovenia

Romania Warned Again by European Council Over Budget Deficit

romania finance ministry

Using Words to Paint a Picture – Belarus’ Nobel Prize Winning Novelist

Beyond Borders: Immigration Within the EU

refugees immigrants

WEF: Emerging Europe Ready for the Future

robotic machine tool in industrial manufacture plant,Smart factory industry 4.0 concept.

Romanian National Bank Hikes Interest Rates

BUCHAREST ROMANIA - MAY 25 2014: The National Bank of Romania (BNR) building palace designed by Albert Galleron and Cassien Bernard.

Belarusian Economy on a Diet to Change its Financial Outlook

The Peculiar Growth of Poland

KRAKOW POLAND - JUNE 2017: logo of Galeria Krakowska shopping center.

Breaking trade barriers with CIS has never been easier

Kaczyński Defends PiS Record

New Political Crisis Hits Moldova

Vladimir_Putin_and_Igor_Dodon_(2017-01-17)_01

Continental Launch Largest Ever Lithuanian Greenfield Investment

kaunas lithuania

Foreigners choose Minsk and Gomel as Belarus’ most attractive FDI destinations

Poland Fails to Spend Billions of Euros in EU Funds

euro banknotes

Hungary’s Solar Dreamer

hand sun and blue sky with copyspace showing freedom or solar power concept

Germany and Belarus: Thinking Globally Acting Locally

Romanian Economy Grows Fast in 2017

Brasov cityscape panoramic and aerial view over medieval architecture of Brasov town, in Transylvania Romania

Chris Lowney — What Jesuit Spirituality Can Teach Us About Global Leadership

Azerbaijan Showcases ICT Potential

BAKU AZERBAIJAN - SEPTEMBER 25: People goes by the seafront of Baku on September 25 2016. Baku is a capital and largest city of Azerbaijan.

Belarus’s Election Tests the EU’s Global Strategy

Michael: The Last King of Romania

Romanian Cabinet Reshuffled as New Splits Emerge in Ruling Party

BUCHAREST ROMANIA - MAY 25 2014: The Victoria Palace. Victoria Square.

After Economic Shocks Armenia Plans for Macroeconomic Stability

yerevan armenia minister of finance

Digital Business Space Gives All Businesses an Office in Sarajevo

Sarajevo Bosnia and Herzegovina - August 24 2015. View from Vraca Memorial Park with building of Avaz Twist Tower

Deloitte Upsizes Its Emerging Europe Cyber Intelligence Team

Computer security concept. Virus in program code

Erste Group: Public Debt Falling Across CEE

erste group

Global Players Dash for Tempting CEE

dollar pound euro coin on euro background.

Trans Adriatic Pipeline Will Fuel Albanian Growth

Xanthi. Greece - July 30 2017: aerial view of construction of gas pipeline Trans Adriatic Pipeline - TAP in north Greece. The pipeline starts from the Caspian sea and reaches the coast of southern Italy

Lech Wałęsa: Hard Options Can Force Nations to Get Down to Work

Romanian Opposition Unites Against ‘Crime Syndicate’ Government

EU Membership and Transition into Market Economies Have Helped CEE Achieve Social Progress

Bulgaria Ski Resort Plans Concern WWF

Bansko, Bulgaria - December, 6, 2015: Two Bansko cable car cabins and snow mountains peaks

IMF Concludes Latest Moldova Review, Releases New Money

Reflection of a Soviet building in Chisinau Republic of Moldova

World Bank: Western Balkans Need to Speed Up Growth For Faster Convergence

world bank

Polish Government in Climbdown on Social Contribution Hike

Cabinet Reshuffle In Poland Sees Controversial Ministers Axed

Economy Minister: Internationalisation Is the Key To the Slovenian Economy

NATO Opens New Moldova Office

NATO Moldova

Poles Still Keen on German Jobs

Brandenburg Gate in Berlin in Germany. The Brandenburg Gate is a triumphal arch a city gate in the center of Berlin. It is one of the most known sites in Berlin.

Poland Must Preserve Wilson Spirit

EU Commissioner Launches Veiled Attack on Poland and Hungary

eu commission

Jadranka Joksimović: Serbia Takes Its Candidacy of the EU Seriously

bigstock-Joint-Press-Conference-Of-Serb-155400338.jpg

Serbia Drafts New Competition Law

serbia belgrade flag

Estonia Proposes Bill of Rights and Responsibilities for Robots

Robotic hand accessing on laptop the virtual world of information. Concept of artificial intelligence and replacement of humans by machines.

EU to Fund New Poland-Slovakia Gas Pipeline

slovakia-poland gas pipeline

Latvia Urged Not to Increase Expenditure As Economy Grows

Riga, Latvia - August, 2010: Panorama view from Riga cathedral on old town of Riga, Latvia

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