Britain to help lure investment to Ostrava region

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A red London double-decker bus was cruising the streets of Ostrava on Wednesday, as the British ambassador to the Czech Republic, David Broucher, visited the city. With last week's visit by the Austrian ambassador and the Phillipine's ambassador set to visit the city next week, it seems that Ostrava is doing as much as possible to lure foreign investment to the region. But will it succeed? For more here's our Ostrava correspondent,Zuzana Smidova.

The British ambassador to the Czech Republic, David Broucher, came to Ostrava with a team from the embassy's commercial section and the chairman of the British Chamber of Commerce, Richard Lappin. They were there to promote a project called Opportunity Czech Republic, launched earlier this year in London. The British government says the Czech Republic is one of only 12 markets throughout the world offering opportunities for Britain to expand its trade and investment activities.

As David Broucher put it: "The Czech Republic is a country we can believe in." And Ostrava, he said, was a place of particular interest for British businessmen, although he didn't specify why. And that was what the journalists wanted to hear the most: concrete measures regarding British investment in the region. But it seems to be too early for that. Major British investment here in the Czech Republic already includes National Power, Anglian Water and Tesco. But the aim of this project is to get involved with small and medium-size businesses.

Members of the embassy's commercial team held meetings with some 60 local businessmen here in Ostrava, mostly informing them about opportunities for Czech businesses in Britain. Their tour of the big cities continues to Brno and Olomouc, in August and September, then onto Bohemia. On the British side there are a series of 12 regional workshops, specially aimed at providing information about business opportunities here in the Czech Republic.

The British delegation was also accompanied by Steve Mead from Bae Systems. He was here to talk to local businessmen too, but for a rather different reason: Saab AB and Bae Systems are hoping to sell the Czech Republic 36 supersonic fighters for a price tag of 2 billion US dollars, but according to the conditions set down by the Czech government, they have to create something called 'offset investments' - investing an amount equal to the value of the tender back into the Czech Republic.

In reality that means that a consortium of businesses from Britain, Sweden and Germany is investigating where they can do enough business with Czech companies to equal the cost of their fighters. Whether they find enough opportunities remains to be seen.

Author: Zuzana Šmídová
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