STA, 29 November 2019 - The Velenje-based household appliances maker Gorenje, owned by the Chinese conglomerate Hisense, will finish 2019 in the red but hopes to return to profit next year. According to chief executive Lan Lin, this will require a change of mindset, and it will determine whether a TV production facility will be built in Velenje.
Gorenje last year posted a group net loss of EUR 37.7 million, and chief managing director Lin, who is also the chairman of Hisense International, expects it to be in the red at the end of this year as well.
While refusing to reveal any figures, he said Gorenje's business was worst at the beginning of the year but was improving recently due to measures to improve efficiency.
"The first quarter was very bad. In March, things started changing, and a turnaround occurred in May, then July and August were worse because of collective leave, and we were profitable again in September and October," he said.
According to Lin, Gorenje is doing well in Eastern Europe, while in western Europe, especially in Germany, it is considered a low-end brand. "We wish to change that next year. We must raise quality, and our key goal is to raise the prices Gorenje is getting on the market by at least 10%."
Revenue is expected to rise by 5.5% this year and by at least 10% next year.
Western Europe will be crucial, and Gorenje will also start selling in its network Hisense's products such as TV sets, smartphones, air conditioning and refrigerators on European markets and the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Meanwhile, Hisense will start marketing Gorenje and its Asko brand in the Hisense's sales network across Europe and overseas.
A major boost to the group's revenue is expected to be provided by the Chinese market, where Gorenje and Asko are well received. The premium brands Asko and Atag are on sale in more than 200 partner stores.
Lin expects the group to return to profit next year. "We are counting on some EUR 15 million in profit," he said, adding that the group's problems had been detected and would be tackled "step by step".
One of the measures will be to rejig the workforce, with Lin noting that "every 100 production workers support 40 people in sales, marketing, legal and finance ... while the average in our industry is 20."
According to Lin, Gorenje's profitability is crucial for all future investments. Next year some EUR 45 million should be invested in the development of new products, tools and production lines. "If we don't do that, our products will no longer be competitive in five or ten years."
The group's efficiency is also to be boosted through the separation of production in Velenje from administration, which is to relocate to Ljubljana as Hisense Gorenje Europe. "We must become leaner and integrate into Hisense."
Lin thinks Ljubljana will be a better location for attracting talent from all over Europe and is also more appropriate for meetings.
Gorenje also to plans to build a new TV manufacturing plant in Velenje that would employ 1,000 workers but this will depend on the business results, Lin warned.
The plans for the factory are ready but shareholders have put the project on hold because they want efficiency improvements first, he explained. "If all goes according to plan we will definitely realise this project."
Lin thinks the government will provide a financial incentive for the project but said it would not be substantial and noted that companies should not rely too much on government support.
He also revealed that through Asko, talks were under way for the takeover of German TV manufacturer Loewe and that the outcome of the talks should be known in the next few days.
If the takeover is carried out, the TVs would be produced in Velenje.
Asked why Gorenje is reducing its labour force if a new factory is planned, Lin said they were laying off people whom they did not need at the moment.
He would like the work for 100 people to be conducted by 80 people in the future, and they would receive extra pay for the extra workload, while the rest would work at the TV factory.
The Gorenje management is also in regular contact with trade unions, he said, adding that it had proposed a new round of talks only a few days ago. The open issues include a pay raise and the payment of a Christmas bonus.
The group plans to continue selling non-core assets, including some profitable companies, he said.
Hisense remains one of the main UEFA sponsors and next year Gorenje will be promoted at the European Football Championship in what will be its first promotion at such a level, Lin said.
All our stories on Gorenje are here
STA, 18 November 2019 - Slovenia and Taiwan do not have diplomatic ties, but this does not mean they cannot strengthen cooperation, Vanessa Shih of the Taipei Economic and Culture Office in Austria, has told the STA in an interview. The 23-million nation provides great business opportunities for Slovenian companies, she believes.
Shih expressed regret that she has only limited access to Slovenian authorities. She has had some contact with Slovenian government representatives but not complete access to ministries and government offices and believes that the Chinese embassy in Ljubljana is the likely reason for this situation.
Vanessa Shih. Source: Wikipedia, Voice of America, public domain
China insists that Taiwan is one of its provinces and that sooner or later a unification would take place; it has not ruled out the use of force if necessary. Taipei has been losing its battle for allies with Beijing and now has diplomatic contact with only 15 countries.
Shih said that relations between Slovenia and Taiwan, which share the same values and have a similar political system, are focused above all on cooperation in economy, education, culture and tourism.
Merchandise trade is rather modest, amounting to just over US$200 million last year, with imports from Taiwan accounting for US$170 million or 0.4% of Slovenia's imports.
Slovenia exported US$36 million to Taiwan last year, which accounted for less than 0.02% of Taiwan's total imports.
"We can see that the figures are still very low, which means that there is a lot of potential in economic cooperation," she said.
Direct investments by Taiwanese companies in Slovenia are very limited as well; Shih believes that the reason for limited investments and trade of goods lies in poor mutual understanding and poor direct exchange of information.
She expressed regret that Slovenia, unlike most European countries, does not have a representative office in Taiwan.
Slovenia and Taiwan do not have a double taxation agreement either, even though Taiwan has signed such agreements with 16 EU members, said Shih, adding that lack of incentives was a problem in promotion of Taiwanese investments in Slovenia.
Cooperation between Slovenia and Taiwan is at a much higher level when it comes to education. Universities in both countries have signed a number of memoranda of understanding.
"Our office in Vienna provides grants for studying and researching in Taiwan," said Shih, adding that an increasing number of Slovenians are studying in Taiwan.
She also pointed out that the number of Taiwanese tourists in Slovenia was increasing, including due to the abolishment of visas for Taiwanese citizens in the Schengen zone.
If a Slovenian wants to travel to Taiwan for a longer period of time, they must apply for a visa at the Taiwanese representation, not at the Chinese embassy, she said, adding that this was proof that Taiwan is a sovereign country.
STA, 12 November 2019 - The mayor of Velenje has appealed to Prime Minister Marjan Šarec to prevent the head office of the household appliances maker Gorenje being moved to Ljubljana as planned by its new Chinese owners.
Mayor Bojan Kontič sees the plans, announced by Gorenje in late October, as yet another step to centralisation, which he says is one of Slovenia's key problems.
A press release from the Velenje city said that the mayor's letter of protest had been forwarded to Chinese Ambassador to Slovenia Wang Shunqing, Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek, Chamber of Commerce and Industry chairman Boštjan Gorjup and the media.
The reaction comes after Gorenje announced it would split up into two companies as part of its integration a year after it was taken over by Hisense.
The management and administration was to move to Hisense Europe, headquartered in Ljubljana, which was to provide corporate support services for all Hisense companies in Europe.
Production was to remain based in Velenje, now Slovenia's sixth largest city where Gorenje has been operating since its inception in 1950.
The release from the city administration expressed concern over the latest activities and plans in what has been the pillar of the local economy for seven decades and one of Slovenia's largest exporters.
"The current situation at the company, the new management's plans and the mood among the employees are far from the promises and commitments the new owners made upon the takeover," reads the release.
The local government met Gorenje chief managing director Chao Liu and representatives of the staff and their trade union in recent days over what it described in today's release as a critical situation.
The employees are worried and scared because of conflicting information about the company's plans and future, which they do not get until after they have become facts, say the city authorities.
"Due to substantial pressure on stepping up the work tempo, sickness absences are getting longer, increasingly many qualified staff is leaving, employees, including those with disabilities are being made redundant, and discontent among the employees is growing by the day."
Arguing that moving highly-qualified staff to Ljubljana does not augur well, the city authorities say they believe the Gorenje management can run the company as well as it stays in Velenje.
The local authorities are also concerned about Gorenje's plan to move its call centre to Serbia, saying it suggests the management was planning to keep only production at minimum possible costs in Velenje.
In response to the mayor's letter, Gorenje said that calls on the prime minister to interfere in business decisions of a fully privately-owned company were unjustified and illegitimate.
The company is planning to accept the invitation to join the December session of the city council in order to present Hisense's plans in detail.
Gorenje expressed understanding for the local community's concerns, while it also said that it fund the local community's support and cooperation exceptionally important.
The company said that Slovenia would gain from the creation of Hisense management hub for the whole Europe in Ljubljana.
The owner is organising the company in such a way as to integrate it into the Hisense corporation's business environment, while also restructuring operations in order to preserve the company and to allow it to grow in the long run, Gorenje said.
It added that this should be in the interest of the municipality in which Gorenje with more than 4,000 employees was becoming Hisense's central production location for the entire Europe.
STA, 4 November - Slovenia will be showcased as a country of advanced technologies and a winter sports destination at China International Import Expo (CIIE) fair opening in Shanghai on Tuesday with Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek on hand.
This is the second time that CIIE is being held at China's financial capital and the second time that Slovenia is being featured at this high-profile fair of consumer and high-tech products and services.
According to the investment and entrepreneurship promotion agency Spirit Slovenija, eleven Slovenian companies will be showcased at the event.
At the national and winter pavilions and the exhibition of Slovenian-made products, the country will be promoted as a country offering high-tech and innovative products and services and as an excellent partner in preparations for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing.
The fair's opening will be attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping, with Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek arriving in Shanghai from Slovenia for the occasion.
Ahead of the event, Spirit Slovenija director Ajda Cuderman said that Slovenia would like to reduce its trade gap with China, also by tapping on niche industries and technologies which are hard to copy.
"We will be presenting some of Slovenia's cutting-edge technology at the event, and promote Slovenian expertise and Slovenian winter sports companies ahead of the Beijing Games," said Cuderman.
Last year, CIIE featured 3,000 companies from 130 countries, drawing more than 150,000 Chinese buyers.
The Slovenian pavilion in Shanghai will be designed in a way to relate to the concept of the country's pavilion at the world Expo show in Dubai next year to spark the interest in the upcoming showcase.
STA, 24 October 2019 - Slovenian police have busted a ring that made an estimated EUR 1.3 million in illegal gain by smuggling Chinese nationals to Italy through Slovenia. Of the four Slovenians and eight Chinese operating the ring, three are in detention and two in house arrest, Maribor police said on Thursday.
One of the detained suspects is a Slovenian citizen and the others are Chinese with permanent residence in Slovenia.
The members of the ring are suspected of helping at least 143 Chinese enter Slovenia illegally through Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia over the past year and a half, Maribor's criminal police chief Beno Meglič said at today's news conference.
To get illegally from China to Italy, a Chinese citizen had to pay from EUR 9,000 to EUR 14,000, the police officer said.
The smuggled persons had been lured to Italy in China and transported to Europe, chiefly Moscow, by plane.
The route then ran to Serbia's Belgrade, from where they were taken on to Croatia or to Bosnia, and from there to Slovenia, Italy's eastern neighbour.
The Chinese entered Slovenia in the north-east of the country, in the area near the city of Ptuj.
Taxi services were used to transport them from Ptuj to the Italian border or to Italy, with four of the suspects posing as taxi drivers.
As many as five of Slovenia's eight police departments took part in the investigation, which lasted a year and a half and ended on 16 October.
The police also seized some EUR 39,000 in cash, passports and several electronic devices.
Under the Slovenian penal code, the crime of smuggling people illegally across the state border carries a prison sentence of one to eight years, and a fine.
STA, 21 October 2019 - PM Marjan Šarec told MPs on Monday that China was Slovenia's most important Asian trade partner and that Slovenia wanted to further boost this economic cooperation. For exports to China to increase, new market niches need to be identified for high value added products to compensate for costs of transport and competition.
Šarec discussed cooperation with China as he was challenged by a question from the opposition National Party (SNS) deputy Zmago Jelinčič during Monday's questions time with the government.
Jelinčič said that Slovenia was not included in China's Belt and Road Initiative, and asked how Slovenia, given its geo-strategic position, could make sure that it would not be brushed aside and left without projects as part of it.
The prime minister noted that Slovenia had signed an umbrella document on the initiative in November 2017 as part of the 17+1 summit between China and Central and Eastern European Countries in Budapest.
Šarec said China was Slovenia's most important trade partner in Asia, with the volume of trade increasing by 12% last year. The growth has continued in 2019, he added.
Slovenian products are present on the Chinese market, including milk, honey, canned fish, poultry, pork, wine and pharmaceuticals, he said, adding that Slovenia's exports to China could be further boosted.
This requires "new market niches to be identified for products with high added value, which would sustain the cost of transport and also of the competition in the Chinese market."
According to Šarec, Slovenia wants to boost cooperation with China in particular in transport and logistics, hi-tech, tourism, food industry, new materials, alternative sources of energy and waste and water management.
"What needs to be said is that large EU member states are not too inclined to cooperate within this initiative, but Slovenia will act in line with its interests," the prime minister told MPs.
The best thing Slovenia can to is to construct a new railway to the port of Koper to become more competitive and allow for greater transshipment. "So that the port of Koper would work at full capacity," he concluded.
All our stories on China are here
STA, 12 September 2019 - Parliamentary Speaker Dejan Židan received on Thursday Yang Chuantang, vice chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, for talks that focused on bilateral parliamentary cooperation.
The officials highlighted good bilateral relations that have grown stronger in recent years with the increased frequency of visits, the National Assembly said in a press release.
Skupaj s poslancema @LidijaDM in @MatjaNemec sem sprejel podpredsednika Nacionalnega odbora Kitajske ljudske politične posvetovalne konference (CPPCC) Yanga Chuantanga.— Dejan Židan (@ZidanDejan) September 12, 2019
Rezultat naporov preteklih let je tudi večje gospodarsko in turistično sodelovanje. pic.twitter.com/WhBkoMTcXP
Acknowledging that cooperation has been particularly intense in agriculture, Židan and Yang said ties could be deepened in other fields as well, in particular in education and culture.
Yang said deep cooperation with the EU was very important for China, which sees Slovenia as an important partner in Western Balkans markets and in the Chinese-led Belt and Road initiative.
He also highlighted close political ties between the two countries and expressed satisfaction at increased trade, the National Assembly said.
Yang is paying a multi-day visit to Slovenia at the invitation of National Council President Alojz Kovšca and is also scheduled to hold talks with Infrastructure Minister Alenka Bratušek.
All our stories on China and Slovenia are here
STA, 22 July 2019 - The Chinese owners of airport operator Aerodrom Maribor have put up signs to limit access to Maribor airport, which is currently managed by DRI, a state-owned company, media reported on Monday.
This is the latest twist in the story of Maribor Airport, whose management was handed over to DRI, the state-owned consulting and engineering company specialised in infrastructure projects, in early June.
The government decided for the move after the Chinese-backed Aerodrom Maribor announced in January it was invoking a six-month notice and terminating the 15-year lease agreement it signed in 2017 due to delays in a planned expansion of the airport's runway.
DRI got the operating licence last week, so the airport reopened last Friday after being closed for a day.
But today, signs saying Private Property, No Trespassing, No Parking appeared at the entrance to the parking area.
The Infrastructure Ministry told the STA that the easement in the area of Maribor airport, owned by Aerodrom Maribor, was settled in the land register and that any disputes over the matter would be settled in court.
The ministry assessed that "the Chinese owners who unilaterally pulled out of the lease agreement for no apparent reason are doing this to hinder the operations of Maribor airport and are implementing their interests at Slovenia's expense".
DRI meanwhile told the STA today the signs did not disrupt the airport's operations.
DRI is to manage the airport until the end of 2020 or until the Infrastructure Ministry finds a long-term solution.
The ministry denied in a press release last week claims that Aerodrom Maribor terminated the lease agreement due to delays in the planned expansion of the airport's runway.
It added no deadlines or any other conditions for the state had been set in the 2017 agreement.
The project entails changes to the spatial plan for the area, which is a lengthy procedure and can take several years, it noted.
The Chinese-backed firm SHS Aviation bought Aerodrom Maribor at the beginning of 2017 from Delavska Hranilnica savings bank, signing a 15-year lease agreement with the state.
It made huge announcements when it took over, but few of its plans came to fruition and the airport has been languishing, serving only a handful of charter flights and subsisting mostly on revenue from pilot training.
STA, 26 June 2019 - An international symposium on the Dragon 4 initiative started in Slovenia on Tuesday and will last until Friday. The meeting aims to strengthen European-Chinese cooperation by developing opportunities for using space imaging for various purposes, including in agriculture and to address climate change.
The initiative by the European Space Agency (ESA), the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology and the National Remote Sensing Center of China (NRSCC) has brought together some 600 scientists.
"Cooperation is producing results which provide prosperity for society in China as well as Europe," Karl Bergquist, who is in charge of ESA international cooperation, told the STA on the margins of the symposium.
He added that the project was focused on coming up with ways to use satellite data for better environmental monitoring, thus providing more efficient strategies for reducing carbon emissions and mitigation pollution.
The NRSCC head Wang Oi'an said that cooperation had been very beneficial for China, adding that the country provided a training program for young scientists every year and enabled them to be part of exchange programs.
The project was initiated in 2004 and includes four phases, each lasting four years. The 2016-2020 period of the fourth phase, Dragon 4, is coming to an end, so it is expected that Dragon 5 strategies and targets will be set down during the Ljubljana meeting, said Bergquist and Wang.
There will be 28 collaboration projects presented, which includes some 250 participants. The event will also feature workshops discussing atmosphere and climate, the state of oceans and coastal areas, hydrology, mitigating natural disasters consequences, ecosystems, smart cities and agriculture.
Economy Ministry State Secretary Aleš Cantarutti stressed the significance of Slovenia hosting the symposium since the country was thus improving its status within the ESA and providing networking opportunities for its institutions.
"It's important that the symposium is in Slovenia, where we're hosting more than 200 scientists, so that Slovenian institutions and companies have an opportunity to establish new connections and get acquainted with the state of the art of the global scientific sphere in this area," he told the STA.
Cantarutti added that space observation was extremely important for Slovenia, including in agriculture and hydrology, highlighting that the country is expected to launch two small satellites into orbit on 9 September.
One of them is called Nemo-HD, which will weight about 65 kg and will be able to provide high-resolution remote sensing imagery as well as capture high-quality video footages.
The other one, called Tristat, will weigh only some 5 kg and will be designed to observe Earth through short-wave infrared multispectral imaging.
Wang and Cantarutti pointed out that the significance of European-Chinese cooperation had been already highlighted by Slovenian Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek and his Chinese counterpart Wang Zhigang, when the pair met in April during Počivalšek's visit to China.
The state secretary added that the ministry would draw up a pair of laws on space activity this year and start developing a national space strategy as well as prepare for renewing associated membership of the ESA The ministry expects Slovenia to become a full-fledged member of the agency in 2021.
STA, 12 June 2019 - Infrastructure Minister Alenka Bratušek met Chinese Transport Minister Li Xiaopeng on the final day of her visit to China to talk about Slovenia's geostrategic advantages in light of China's plans to upgrade links to Europe.
According to a press release from the Infrastructure Ministry, Bratušek also met the management of Cosco, one of the world's biggest shipping companies which has stakes in several European ports, including a 100% stake in the container terminal of the Piraeus port in Greece.
Cosco, which is a state-owned company, is also a major partner for Slovenia's sole maritime port, Koper.
Bratušek put in her word for boosting that cooperation, and presented plans to build a second track connecting the port inland.
The CEO of the port operator Luka Koper, Dimitrij Zadel, who accompanied the minister, presented the company's development potential and investment plans.
The minister tweeted that the construction of the second track between Koper and Divača, and investment in extension of port piers would increase the joint potential of the port and Slovenia, "so stable partners are important for our companies".
Bratušek also visited the Slovenian Embassy in Beijing and met Transport Minister Li. They discussed the advantages of Slovenia's geostrategic position in Central and Eastern Europe.
China has been dedicating considerable attention to transport infrastructure within the 17+1 initiative for cooperation with the countries of Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe and the Belt and Road initiative, or the new Silk Road to boost transport links with Europe.
Li thanked Bratušek for Slovenia's active participation in both initiatives, noting the country's geostrategic location. He called for enhancing cooperation between the two countries. Bratušek invited her counterpart to visit Slovenia.
Earlier this week, Bratušek visited the China - CEEC Investment and Trade Expo fair in Ningbo, meeting Chinese Vice-Prime Minister Hu Chunhua at the forum of representatives of the participating countries. She also met former long-serving Transport Minister Jang Huantang.
Apart from Luka Koper, several other Slovenian companies were showcased at the Ningbo fair, including the Slovenian railways operator Slovenske Železnice, postal company Pošta Slovenije, logistic companies Intereuropa, Adria Kombi and d OmniOpti.