Foreigners find it a struggle
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Foreigners find it a struggle

Foreign banks are trying to sell investment-banking services in Croatia but so far with limited success. Delays in state sell-offs and corporate restructuring aren't helping. By Charles Olivier.

Croatia does not feel like a country recovering from civil war. The people are still elated about their national soccer team's long run to the semi-finals in this summer's World Cup and bars in Zagreb are buzzing with Prada-clad teenagers waving red-and-white chequered flags. Sales of Mercedes cars and mobile phones are soaring. And with GDP expected to grow by 7.5% this year, the trade deficit down to $1.5 billion and the budget now in surplus, economists are optimistic.

But foreign bankers working in Croatia reckon themselves somewhat lonely and neglected guests at the party. "Croatia has been very disappointing," gripes one. "When I first came here, everything looked good. The political situation was stable. The economy was growing. The government seemed committed to reform. Laws and regulations seemed to be in place. But when I began to look beneath the surface I found that the situation on the ground was very different. The pace of reform was very slow, the economy was very politicized. It is not easy to do business here." One western European banker says Croatia is more bureaucratic than Russia.

As a result, several international banks have postponed plans to set up offices in Croatia.

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