Gateway to the Balkans

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International businesses are beginning to take notice that Montenegro is becoming a business and economic “gateway” for the Western Balkans and, therefore, provides access to a potential consumer base of approximately 24 million people. Montenegro gained its independence from Serbia in 2006 and plans to join NATO and the European Union. In such a short time - since 2006 - Montenegro has established solid government-to-government relationships with the United States and her allies. In addition, the State of Maryland and the State of Maine are developing Montenegro as a logical and desirable business destination for businesses from those states. These examples should show all American businesses that Montenegro is important to future trade and commerce in the entire region.

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While Montenegro is becoming known worldwide for its natural beauty, many are also taking notice that it is positioning itself to become a business and economic center for the Balkans … a “gateway”, if you will.  Because of its geographic location in the Balkans – a region in which American companies are significantly underrepresented - Montenegro can be important to future trade and commerce throughout the region.  The fact that not one, but two States from the United States – Maryland and Maine – have just recently started developing this “gateway” should show all international American businesses – regardless of the State in which they are located - that they should consider doing business in the Balkans.

Since stable opportunities for American businesses aboard start with foreign nations having strong relations with the United States and her allies, we were very fortunate to speak with senior level government officials about United States and Montenegrin relations.  We spoke with Ambassador Miodrag Vlahovic, Montenegro’s Ambassador to the United States, Stuart Jones, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, Ambassador Roderick Moore, the United States Ambassador to Montenegro, and Robert Walker, Managing Director of International Investment and Trade for Maryland.  They were kind enough to offer their official opinions about the status of the relationship between the United States and Montenegro, and the opportunity for doing business there.

Ambassador Vlahovic:
We are highly appreciative for the continuous US support of Montenegrin overall reform.  The United States of America was an important partner and supporter of Montenegrin democracy in the last couple of years.  The United States has helped us a lot, event in our most critical period of our recent history during the wars in ex-Yugoslavia.  They were sincerely and in a very friendly way engaged in our re-gaining of our independence, supporting the democratic process which has led us to the peaceful and democratic referendum in May 2006, and consequently our Embassy here and our other diplomatic and consular offices in New York are actually here to promote this kind of good atmosphere and relationship which is friendly, which is prosperous and where we expect to have continuous support in years to come.    

Stuart Jones:
We are delighted with US – Montenegrin relations right now.  It has been a very successful friendship.  We were one of the first countries to recognize Montenegro back in 2006 and we immediately established diplomatic relations just two months later in August 2006, and we have been a strong promoter of Montenegro’s aspirations to join the European Union and to join NATO.  Recently Montenegro has applied to join the MAP program and they have had a very successful assessment by NATO experts and they are moving along the path to NATO membership in a very effective and disciplined manner.  We are also very excited about economic opportunities for Americans in Montenegro.  Montenegro has a beautiful coast line and it is now being really discovered – rediscovered if you will – by Americans and Europeans for its tremendous tourism opportunities.  Also, away from the coast the mountains are magnificently beautiful and offer tremendous opportunities for economic engagement with Montenegro. So we see Montenegro as a tremendous partner in Europe as it moves and develops its capabilities to join European institutions.

Ambassador Moore:
First of all I think that Montenegro is a country on the “go”.  This is a “plucky” little country which has set out for itself a real ambitious agenda of trying to integrate itself into the European Union and into NATO in as a rapid period as possible.  That in and of itself will help build a stronger business environment.  Secondly, I mentioned that Montenegro – in a region that have been fairly unstable – has actually been somewhat of an oasis of stability, not only internally but they have also made an admirable degree of progress of building close relationships with neighboring countries. This is important because the Montenegro market itself is fairly small.  There are less than 700,000 people living in Montenegro.  Given that there are free trade agreements with neighboring countries, given the fact that Montenegro hopefully will be a member one day of the European Union, that expands enormously the potential business opportunities.

Robert Walker:
Montenegro we see as not only an opportunity in terms of the country of Montenegro, and the 700,000 people who live there, as an emerging market, but also as a window into the Balkans and to parts of Eastern Europe.  You’ve got 25 million or more people in the former-Yugoslavia, plus millions more beyond that gateway.  We see this as an opportunity for Maryland companies to not only access the Montenegrin market, but also the market that lies beyond that in the Balkans.