The Chairman of the British-Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce Bate C. Toms speaks to the Odessa Review about the BUCC’s activities to help facilitate the future development of the Odessa region.
The British-Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce, launched in 1997, has always been focused on Odessa. For example, recently we have been co-hosting the opening dinner for the annual Odessa Film Festival, assisting this excellent Festival. This dinner is held at the Bristol Hotel: it typically combines talks by British and Odessa officials and cultural presentations on film. Everyone has a lot of fun. The event then leads into the Film Festival’s beloved outdoor silent film screening on the Potemkin staircase.
Last October, we also held the Black Sea Economic Forum at Odessa’s Bristol Hotel and Diplomatic Club. This was, in fact, the largest investment event ever hosted by any chamber of commerce in Ukraine. We had over 400 diverse participants flying into Odessa to attend from America, Australia, the Middle East, western Europe and elsewhere, attracting investor attention. Together with holding regular networking events to create professional links and friendships, the Chamber is presently focused on promoting the following six areas of economic development for Odessa city and region:
Port Reform and Development
We are working hard on promoting port reforms in the city. Governor Mikheil Saakashvili has identified reform of the Odessa ports as essential for its development. We completely agree.
The blockages in customs need to be eliminated, operations needs to be made more transparent and E-Government based customs clearance made much more efficient. With such reforms, Odessa can be the quickest route between northern Europe and Asia, and be competitive with Constanta and other European ports – becoming again one of the leading ports of Europe.
To assist this port promotion, we are also focused on increasing freight railroad capacity by involving private investors, so that as more cargo passes through Odessa ports, there will be enough freight rail capacity to carry it. The creation of concessions for private expenditure on rail cars and gauge transfer stations could greatly help take care of this need. Presently, the state cannot easily fund such rail capacity expansion due to the crisis. We have been in contact with the leading companies in the field, including some from Britain and Poland. In particular, we envisage development of private freight railroad capacity between Odessa and Lviv, connecting into the western European rail gauge at the Polish border, that would greatly help the economies of both cities.
One of the worrying consequences of global warming for southern Europe in general, and for southern Ukraine in particular, is that it is becoming increasingly dry. In fact, all of southern Ukraine, particularly the Odessa region, has been increasingly experiencing droughts. As a consequence, farm yields in the Odessa region have been plummeting. For grain many farms are down to around a ton and a half per hectare or less, instead of the six or more tons that would be possible with adequate water.
As Odessa oblast has many rivers, getting adequate water to farms depends primarily upon larger irrigation system being put in place. The contemplated expansion of irrigation works during the Soviet period was never completed. With many nearby Middle Eastern countries increasingly dependent on Ukraine to meet their food needs, developing irrigation should be a priority. Those sorts of projects are economically self-sufficient – any investment should relatively quickly pay for itself many times over.
Attracting international investment for the redevelopment of southern Ukraine should be of pivotal importance during this otherwise difficult period.
IT, Business and Legal Education
We have identified several UK, US and other foreign universities with top IT, business and legal courses that are interested in expanding into Odessa to augment existing Ukrainian courses. Bringing in such foreign courses is especially important now that the currency devaluation and the decrease in the availability of scholarships has made studying abroad much more difficult for most Ukrainians. For example, we want to organize the teaching of English law subjects at Odessa universities. That is important if local lawyers are to have a broader background for international business, since English law is the leading governing law for cross-border contracts. In a major trading city like Odessa, the law and business schools should be able to offer courses in British commercial law and related subjects. The same should apply for Western style MBAs, as have been developed in Kiev to integrate Western style education into the Ukrainian curriculum.
Broadly speaking, Ukraine has been hidden from the West since the 1920s. This largely remains the case. However, with the recent decline in popularity of many traditional tourism destinations, Western tourism agencies and airlines are on the lookout for new places for their clients to travel to. The economic multiplier effect from such tourism is extraordinary. For this, Odessa needs a top tourism PR promotion firm to market the city to western tourists, starting with London that, with a population of over 15 million, is the largest tourism market in Europe. The BUCC is spearheading a project to apply what we have learned from our past experiences in this area elsewhere in Ukraine to engage such experts to help promote Odessa. We are now fund-raising to cover the costs for the leading British travel PR firm to start Odessa’s UK promotion. This is being timed to coincide with the upcoming opening of the new airport terminal. We will thereby build on the best British travel PR expertise to develop the British tourism market for Odessa.
Hotels, Retail and Other Real Estate Construction
Development of the Odessa real estate construction sector will be spearheaded by the growth of the tourism sector. The key is to stimulate hotel and residential construction. In turn that would lead to more commercial and retail development as well.
Odessa is a justly famous and exceptionally beautiful city benefiting from an excellent location as a gateway to Europe. The BUCC seeks to help Odessa capitalize on its potential, by developing projects that could readily achieve significant results. We hope that local Odessa entrepreneurs and stakeholders will join with us, and the Odessa city and the oblast administrations, to seize these important opportunities.
Find out more about BUCC at: http://bucc.com.ua/ or please call Diana Dobriy on +38-066-440-08-22.