STA, 25 April 2019 - Economic Development and Technology Minister Zdravko Počivalšek met Chinese Minister of Science and Technology Wang Zhang in Beijing on Thursday. He moreover addressed the 2019 Belt and Road Forum, underlining that Slovenia was an open, high-tech partner economy.
A press release from the Economy Ministry quoted Počivalšek as saying that China appreciated the attendance of politicians at events such as the Belt and Road summit that started today.
Počivalšek noted at the sidelines of the event that a number of bilateral meetings of Slovenian and Chinese politicians had taken place over the past 26 years, which is reflected in traditionally good relations and strong business ties.
Meetings taking place as part of the 16+1 initiative of Central and Eastern European countries and China boost Slovenia's visibility and open doors for Slovenian companies, he added.
Počivalšek proposed to Wang that the countries sign a memorandum on cooperation in technology and innovation. He said that China considered Slovenia to be a credible partner in innovation. "We must seize this opportunity for our companies."
Počivalšek arrived in China on Tuesday, visiting the headquarters of Haisense and meeting representatives of the Liaoning Shenyang province yesterday.
STA, 24 April 2019 - Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek visited the headquarters of Hisense, the owner of household appliances maker Gorenje, on Wednesday, the second day of his visit to China. He said Hisense would get the government's support in simplifying procedures and having its investments approved in Slovenia.
Počivalšek was received by Hisense group vice president Tang Yeguo and the delegation visited the manufacturing plant for cooling devices and the showroom, the company said in a press release.
Počivalšek's five day trip to China aims at boosting business ties. He is scheduled to meet the representatives of Liaoning Shenyang, where automotive maker TPV is to launch a new facility.
Slovenia has improved its visibility in China over the past five years, which is reflected in the continuous growth of trade between the countries, the Economy Ministry said in a press release.
China is Slovenia's most important trade partner in Asia and 13th overall, ranking before Russia and the US.
Nearly 12,600 Slovenian companies imported from China last year, while 475 exported to China, generating EUR 1.3bn, 11.8% more than the year before.
All our stories on Slovenia and China are here
STA, 23 April 2019 - Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek will start a multi-day visit to China on Tuesday designed to strengthen economic relations between the two countries as well as Slovenia's role in the Belt and Road Initiative.
Počivalšek will present the government's action plans for potential investors and the situation in Slovenian business. Tourism cooperation will also be on the agenda.
The minister will visit the headquarters of the Chinese appliance and electronics manufacturer Hisense, the owner of the Slovenian white goods maker Gorenje.
He will meet with representatives of the local authorities in the province Liaoning Shenyang, where the Slovenian automotive supplier TPV would like to launch a production facility.
Počivalšek will attend the second Belt and Road Initiative Forum, addressing participants at the silk road innovation conference.
China is Slovenia's leading trading partner in Asia, listed as 13th among the country's top trading partners, ahead of Russia and the US, said the Economy Ministry, adding that Slovenia is particularly supportive of hi-tech projects.
More than 12,500 Chinese companies exported to Slovenia last year, while almost 500 Slovenian companies traded with China. Bilateral trade in goods increased by almost 12% year-on-year, amounting to EUR 1.3bn.
The scope of Slovenia's investment in China is on the rise as well, currently estimated at EUR 45m, as over 30 Slovenian companies have affiliates in China.
In Slovenia, there are roughly 110 companies in 100% Chinese ownership and 23 companies with mixed Chinese ownership, according to Economy Ministry data.
All our stories on Slovenia and China are here
The site Ex-Yu Aviation reports that Ljubljana Jože Pučnik Airport saw it’s third month in a row with rising passenger numbers, with the figures for March 2019 up 3% on a year before, and a total of 133,641 travellers served. In contrast, SHS Aviation, the Chinese-owned operator of Maribor Edvard Rusjan Airport, will end its involvement with the troubled airport on July 15 2019.
SHS, which had planned to make the airport a hub for Chinese tourists, signed a 15-year agreeement for the concession in March 2017. However, it has been unhappy with delays by the Slovenian government in agreeing a new zoning plan that would have enabled it to invest €600 million in a redevelopment project, as well as the rejection of requests for state aid.
Maribor Airport has been without any scheduled commercial flights since September 2018.
All our stories on air travel are here
STA, 12 April 2019 - Prime Minister Marjan Šarec highlighted the port of Koper as the closest link between Central and East Europe, and China as he addressed the eighth summit of China and 16 Central and East European countries in Croatia's Dubrovnik on Friday.
In line with the bill, courts will have to weigh whether Banka Slovenije, the central bank, correctly applied the law in ordering the bailout, and correctly estimated bank losses.
Plaintiffs will be able to launch proceedings within ten months after the law enters into force. Banka Slovenije will be the defendant and if it loses, it will have to settle the damages from its reserves. If those do not suffice, it will be able to borrow from the state.
Banka Slovenije opposes the bill, in particular the solution under which it would have to pay damages if the courts establish to the plaintiffs were wronged, arguing that this would lead to unlawful monetary financing.
The central bank believes the law should state clearly that it is not responsible to pay compensation for the damage. A similar position is held by the European Central Bank.
The government rushed to endorse the bill at yesterday's correspondence session because the upper chamber of parliament, the National Council, was also preparing a similar bill, which however envisages the state launching procedures against Banka Slovenije.
"We rushed it, because we wanted the legislative procedure to start as soon as possible. It is possible that we will be merging the bill with the National Council's legislative proposal," Finance Ministry State Secretary Metod Dragonja said yesterday.
The National Council adopted its proposal today, arguing the government's bill fell short of what had been asked by the Constitutional Court.
The upper chamber's president Alojz Kovšca stressed that excessive procedural costs would discourage potential plaintiffs from suing Banka Slovenije, which means effective legal protection had not been provided.
The National Council would have Banka Slovenije sued by the state and the burden of proof transferred to the central bank.
Kovšca announced cooperation in the adoption of the final act, but added it would be vetoed if it failed to provide a realistic solution.
The bill will go through a regular procedure in parliament and the government is counting on it to be passed in June or July.
In the three months after the passage, special virtual data rooms envisaged by the bill would be set up by the Securities Market Agency (ATVP) where Banka Slovenije will give all interested parties access to information.
Potential damages are estimated between zero and EUR 963.2m, which is how much liabilities were wiped out by the banks which were nationalised in 2013 and 2014, plus extra costs.
The Finance Ministry said in presenting the bill that Banka Slovenije had decided for the measures independently and therefore carried the responsibility and liability for potential damages.
The legislation based on which the measures were taken has been found to be in line with the Constitution, so it is Banka Slovenije and not the state which is responsible for the way the legislation was implemented, the ministry said.
The ministry took into account the central bank's remarks regarding the setting up of data rooms, which it claimed would be too expensive, so the bill envisages the setting up of virtual rooms by the ATVP with the ministry only providing one room where computers and software will be available for accessing data.
But the ATVP warned in a letter today that it lacked the necessary know-how, money and staff to set up the virtual data rooms, so it would have to outsource them, which would require additional funding and a lot more time than the envisaged three months.
The agency also said it had no resources to decide on the potential thousands of applications for access to the data rooms, so it proposes that Banka Slovenije or the Public Administration Ministry take over the task.
In line with the bill, the court will decide whether there are grounds to award damages to plaintiffs and also set the amount of the potential damages, whereas in the original proposal Banka Slovenije was to determine the amount of damages, pending final approval by the court.
All procedures will be handled by the Maribor District Court, where Banka Slovenije will have to prove that it had reasons for the wipe-out and that it takes into account remarks regarding access to information and data protection.
Slovenia spent roughly EUR 5.5bn bailing out and nationalising the three largest banks in the country (two small banks were wound down) in a process seen as saving the economy from ruin.
However, subsequent revelations cast doubt on the methods used to value bank assets, which in turn determined how much capital banks needed and to what extent junior creditors were affected.
All our stories about Slovenia and China are here
STA, 11 April 2019 - Prime Minister Marjan Šarec met his Chinese counterpart Li Kequiang on the sidelines of the summit of the 16 Central and East European countries and China. The talks focused on economic cooperation.
According to a press release from the Government Communication Office, Šarec and Li "noted the traditionally good relations between the two countries, which are being deepened still in many areas".
Šarec also underscored that it was important to further enhance bilateral economic cooperation, and expressed satisfaction at continued increase in bilateral merchandise trade.
He was quoted as saying that it was important for Slovenia as an export economy that the 16+1 initiative opened doors to Slovenian companies.
As potential areas of cooperation he listed the automotive industry, pharmaceutical industry, high technologies, civil aviation and science.
Šarec also invited his Chinese counterpart to visit Slovenia.
The main part of the summit of the 16+1 initiative will be held on Friday. It comes only days after the EU and China adopted a joint statement at a summit in Brussels paving the way to a reciprocity-based partnership.
China would like for the 16+1 initiative to be part of its New Silk Road global infrastructure project. They expect to hear from the 16 Central and East European countries about the projects to be included in the New Silk Road.
The summit is bringing together almost 1,000 participants, around a third from China, including nine Slovenian companies, among them the port operator Luka Koper.
On the sidelines of the summit, Šarec may also hold a bilateral meeting with his Croatian counterpart Andrej Plenković.
All our stories about Slovenia and China are here
STA, 22 March 2019 - Slovenia's sole seaport in Koper is not concerned about the prospect of Chinese investments in the port of Trieste, its biggest rival among north Adriatic ports. It says there is plenty of scope for growth of all ports in the region.
"We've always emphasised our support for development projects of all ports in the region," port operator Luka Koper told the STA, noting that investments were the only way north Adriatic ports can compete with ports in North Europe.
The company quoted a study commissioned by the North Adriatic Port Association showing that ports from Ravenna to Rijeka have a combined potential to transship six million container units per year; in 2018 they handled 2.8 million units.
It is precisely in container transshipments that Trieste poses the biggest threat to Koper with the help of state-sponsored Chinese investors.
Koper handled 988,000 container units last year to Trieste's 725,000, but Trieste's volume was up almost a fifth over the year before while Koper registered only 8% growth in container shipments.
Overall, Trieste and the adjacent Monfalcone handled 67 million tonnes of cargo while Koper handled 24 million tonnes, both figures records for the respective ports.
Not only is it unfazed by the prospect of even stronger competition from Trieste, Luka Koper notes that all ports in the region have the same problem: poor rail connections inland.
Koper has a single track connecting it to the national rail network, Trieste faces bottlenecks within the port itself, and in Croatia's Rijeka the tracks still cut through the city.
"Rather than being concerned about what neighbouring ports are doing, it is important that Koper and Slovenia realize plans that we have adopted," the company said about the coming construction of a new track connecting the port with the inland hub Divača.
Construction of the EUR 1bn-plus track covering a distance of 27 kilometres has already started - contractors are currently building 20 kilometres of access roads - but the project is expected to take many years due to the difficult karst terrain.
Concern about Chinese plans have been raised in Slovenian media after it was announced that during Chinese President Xi Jinping's ongoing visit to Italy a memorandum of understanding on Chinese infrastructure investments would be signed.
According to plans, one of the pillar of the investment plan would be to strengthen Trieste's rail connections inland, which some see as a serious threat to Koper's competitive position.
Elen Tvrdy, the dean of the Koper Faculty of Maritime Studies and Transport, told the STA Trieste's plans required not only that the new Koper-Divača was built, but also that the port itself Koper continued investing.
"We must always be concerned about loss of market or partners. Koper must continue with investments, this is the only way it will remain competitive, regardless of whether or not the Chinese come to Trieste.
She noted that the Chinese were looking for a foothold in north Adriatic because of short transport routes to Central Europe. North Adriatic has geographic advantages, but good rail connections are critical, she said.
All our stories on logistics in Slovenia are here
You’re from Hong Kong – how did you end up in Slovenia?
I was hired before I came to Slovenia as a Traditional Chinese medicine expert a few years ago. Back then I was a bit exhausted with the busy and crowded environment in Hong Kong, so I was looking for a change. Indeed, it was the internet that found Slovenia for me after intensive browsing and Google searching. I visited Slovenia for one week before I took the job and that was the first time I came to Europe. It is, however, my personal choice to stay in Novo mesto, a relatively quiet and small "city".
In 2017, I had a major change in my job. At that time, I needed to choose whether I stay here or restart in other city. I even got another job offer in Koper. But somehow I feel responsible to all my clients who have been visiting me for years, and I would like to continue to serve them. So despite some good business opportunities offers, I chose to settle in Novo mesto.
What were some of the problems you faced when moving here, and how did you deal with them?
Frankly speaking, at first, not many problems because I was hired as an expert, so basically someone took care everything for me – renting an apartment, arranging job, even taking me to the government office and bank with a person who speaks Slovene. But then, slowly, the longer I lived here the more problems I had.
The first challenge I had was getting my driving licence. It took my more than a year, even with the effort of my Slovenian driving instructor, and yet I was not able to satisfy the ever-changing and never-ending request for paperwork from the Upravna Enota. At a certain point I just realised that he was asking for documents that didn’t exist. And every time when I wanted to get some clear answers, instead of giving me one, the guy just tried to think of something to send me away. So I took the advice from the expat group online, tried another Upravna Enota, and guess what? I finally took the practical exam, passed and got my license. I was not so lucky the next time with my visa renewal though, and I really do not want to get into the details.
But you know, similar stuff like that, they never tell you the things once and for all, so the whole procedure is dragging on for so long and at the same time the officers are complaining that they have so many jobs to do. For a person who comes from a city that is world famous for its efficiency, this is unbelievable and almost hilarious. Interestingly enough, sometimes this could happen in private companies as well, but at least I can choose another bank and telecom and live with it.
What are some things you miss from Hong Kong?
As mentioned above, our efficiency, maybe some more pragmatism as well. The government and companies in Hong Kong are (or maybe were) famous for high efficiency and quality. This is very understandable. For a small city with seven million people and as one of the largest financial centres in the world, everything needs to be fast, precise, no-nonsense. And for the previous generation of the Chinese community, they also needed to face rule under the British. They needed to find their space to keep their own Chinese heritage and customs, but at the same time adapt to the British.
The British were also quite clever, especially after the late 60s, when they finally realised that instead of just taking and taking, as they did in other colonies, they also needed to build and develop the city as a modern society. So for my generation who grew up in the 80s and 90s, we kind of have the best of both worlds. I was able to learn from my Chinese heritage for our hardworking and can-do attitude, respect for tradition and authentic Chinese culture while at the same time I am familiar with the practice of the rule of law, have communication with the free world and enjoy our economic success.
And of course, the variety of food from home is also what I miss. It is not just about having Chinese food. It is the variety of fresh vegetables, seafood and all kind of imported food from all over the world. I do enjoy the quality of food in Slovenia, but I do want to have more vegetables than lettuce, spinach, broccoli and stuff like this.
What things do you think Slovenia could learn from Hong Kong?
In some ways, I think Slovenians are too comfortable or even obsessed with being a small country. Look – being geographically small does not mean that you cannot think big. Sometimes you really need to break through the comfort zone and explore. And in this process, there will be pain and difficulty but you need to have a long term plan and bigger picture in mind together with a good faith. However, the Slovenians that I have met are either too passive and pessimistic for advancement, or they react aggressively protective of their own rule, despite the fact that those rules are causing more trouble or are impractical in the real world. So in short, what Slovenia can learn from Hong Kong is more of our can-do attitude, with more flexibility and pragmatism.
What things in Slovenia would you like to show people in Hong Kong?
I do not want to show them anything because I want this country to remain a hidden gem (laughs). Just kidding. Well, to be honest, it is a difficult question to answer. I enjoy the relatively slow and quiet pace of the country but if I tell everybody about this then I am kind of ruining the peace. Slovenia has everything, but just a tiny bit of everything. And for people in Hong Kong, we are so internationalised. We travel a lot. So if they want the European heritage, they go Vienna or Florence; if they want to the city vibe they go to Berlin or London; if they want the nature or beauty, they go to Switzerland or Iceland. In the recent years, more Hong Kong people are interested in visiting the Balkans or somewhere with less people. This is the only time when people from Hong Kong will look for Slovenia, and then have trouble pronouncing Ljubljana.
Do you speak Slovene, and if so, how did you learn?
I took some private classes when I was an employee. But ever since I started my own business, I do not have the time and energy for more lessons. At work, I can understand many familiar phrases or vocabulary items related to my work. I have a translator and interpreter for my business. For my personal life, I mostly speak English. For some occasions I just hire a personal assistant or consultant for complicated or formal things. In general, my Slovene is slabo.
What’s the situation of Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) in Slovenia?
Just like many other things in this country, Slovenia has everything but on a small scale. The first TCM expert was invited by the former Yugoslavia. Somehow that doctor settled in Slovenia, and since then more experts like me were hired to come here. Still, doctors come and go, while TCM here is kind of controlled by the business owner, so the TCM profession is way less mature than places like Canada, USA, Australia and Switzerland.
At the same time, Slovenia is also in a difficult position with regard to training their own TCM doctors. There are acupuncture services in the hospital and there are medical doctors who perform acupuncture. But if we consider the more internationalised and widely accepted standard of training, the formal training of TCM is basically non-existent in Slovenia. Slovenians can go overseas for formal training, but it requires a huge investment. Therefore, importing TCM experts and training capable interpreters for non-Slovene speaking doctors is a more practical and cost-efficient way of providing authentic and quality TCM services in Slovenia. To a certain degree, we are quietly assisting the overloaded medical system herem while generating profit for the government and creating jobs.
What are some things that people get wrong about acupuncture?
Acupuncture is not just poking needles into the body. There are different types of acupuncture. The one that I am practicing is the classical Chinese approach which is under the Traditional Chinese medicine theory and system. Other Asian medicines like Korean and Japanese ones are similar to the Chinese, but still have their uniqueness. There are some “modern” forms of acupuncture, to be accurate “dry-needling”. They are not performed under the TCM theory, but using scientific and anatomical knowledge like trigger points or the nervous system.
As I have mentioned, acupuncture is not just putting needles into the body. There is a reason behind it. However, after hundreds of years of reductionist science, many people refuse to accept the fact that there is another rational and logical approach to understanding our body. TCM is a holistic philosophy which is a complete and sophisticated system, but at the same time fundamentally different from science. We may be able to get some scientific findings in TCM, but again they are only small pieces under a reductionist system. Anyhow, I don’t want to bore people with too much academic talk, but instead to emphasise the value and importance of an independent and mature TCM theory.
What are some things that acupuncture can help with?
Throughout my years in Slovenia, I have helped many people. Some conditions that I find more responsive to my treatment are digestive system problems like irritable bowels, thyroid problems and psychiatric problems like depression and anxiety. The list is too long, really, to name just a few.
Do you think you’ll stay in Slovenia “forever”?
I do have some plans on the personal, business and professional levels. But who knows what tomorrow might bring. I will try and do my best to provide and serve my clients as well as Slovenian society. May the people here will help me, value me and God bless me.
If you’re interested in learning more about Ms Cheng’s work in Slovenia, then you can visit Aku Energija online or at Ulica talcev 9, 8000 Novo Mesto
STA, 13 February 2019 - The 13th annual auction of valuable wood in the town of Slovenj Gradec finished today. A record 3,706 logs were featured and the majority were sold abroad - almost a quarter was bought by a Chinese buyer. The sycamore maple was once again sold at the highest prices.
According to the organisers, the sycamore maple is still the most desired type of wood, used in yacht design, violin construction, or veneer construction.
This year's highest log bid for sycamore maple, offered by an Italian veneer producer, was EUR 15,389, which was not record-breaking.
There were other records though - the highest number of log owners, 566, most of whom came from Slovenia while some were also from the Austrian state of Carinthia, and a record number of assorted logs, 3,706, which estimated to 3,724 cubic metres.
There was also a record number of buyers, 39, coming from Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Italy, Croatia and Hungary, and a record number of bids.
The organiser Jože Jeromel told the STA that Chinese buyers were also present and one of them bought more than 900 cubic metres of oak, maple and ash timber, making him the biggest buyer.
Walnut, oak, larch and spruce timber were sold at fairly high prices as well.
The auction marked the first time state forest timber was offered. Some of it sold well, while some of it remained unsold.
EUR 1.2m were exchanged at this year's auction, said Jeromel.
The national Forest Service chief, Damjan Oražem, said that the auction had a bright future and stressed the importance of successful cooperation between the Forest Service and forest owners. In Slovenia, there are around 460,000 of them and they significantly contribute to the forest economy.
STA, 1 February 2019 - Gorenje, the Velenje-based household appliances group which was taken over by China's Hisense last year, is cutting 325 temporary-basis jobs, according to information from the in-house trade union.
Gorenje confirmed that fixed-term contracts of 190 workers had elapsed, but the head of the in-house trade union Žan Zeba insisted that 325 jobs were being slashed, including agency workers.
Speaking with the STA, the head of the in-house trade union Žan Zeba said the news came as a negative surprise after the company's plans about expansion of production and extra hiring.
Zeba said the Gorenje management had promised the workers who are now being laid off full time jobs. He also said that it would be hard to meet the output goals given the current labour dynamics.
"After the very good test results of our new generation appliances we definitely expect production to increase and the capacities to be filled; we will welcome all new investments once they happen."
Zeba also hopes that the employees' wishes be taken into consideration in the company's reorganisation.
He said the management was planning to launch a new dishwasher production line in mid-year, but the trade union did not have any information about it.
Production of build-in freezers and fridges is to be moved to the subsidiary in Valjevo in Serbia in the coming months.
Denis Oštir, director of corporate communication at Gorenje, told the STA that the mentioned workers were on temporary job contracts. "These contracts have now run out."
"Gorenje denies in the strongest terms the information that we will lay off 325 workers. We will not give notice to a single worker employed on fixed or non-fixed terms," Oštir said.
After receiving official information from the staffing department, Oštir also denied that employment contracts of 325 workers had run out, saying the correct figure was 190 workers.
He added though that it "is true that the fixed-term contracts of a number of workers have elapsed at this time. This is a matter of seasonal change, which is common in a company's operations".
Oštir said the company was adapting to the clients' demands and seasonal trends in demand. At the end of 2018, demand for labour force in production was bigger because the company created stocks because of the move to Valjevo.
Asked about the plans for a new TV plant announced by the Chinese owners, Oštir said the project was in the phase of acquiring the necessary documents.
The plant is to be built by the existing warehouse in Velenje and is to create 300 to 400 jobs.
Gorenje is currently being transformed from a joint stock company into a limited responsibility company. The company delisted from the Ljubljana Stock Exchange last year.