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News 19 Apr 17

Serbia Hosts Agrokor Summit Without Croatia

Serbia's Trade Minister on Wednesday will host a joint meeting with trade ministers from Slovenia, Bosnia and Montenegro on the Agrokor crisis - but apparently without a Croatian representative.

Maja Zivanovic

Serbian Minister of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications Rasim Ljajic. Photo: Media Centre

Joint measures on the troubled Croatian-based company Agrokor will be considered at a Wednesday meeting in Belgrade of the trade ministers from Serbia [Rasim Lajic], Slovenia [Zdravko Pocivalsek], Bosnia [Mirko Sarovic] and Montenegro [Dragica Sekulic].

Minister Ljajic did not respond to BIRN’s queries about whether Croatian representatives had also been invited to Belgrade.

“Considering that all regional countries seek individual solutions to the challenges in the business of Agrokor ... the meeting in Belgrade will discuss joint measures and actions to preserve jobs and protect the interests of suppliers as well as other issues related to the stable working of the [Agrokor] Group,” the web portal of the Serbian ministry said.

The Belgrade meeting will be first of that kind, in which four countries will jointly consider ways to protect their interests.

N1 television said it had obtained confirmation that the Croatian government knew about the meeting, but that no one from Croatia was invited.  

“We have information about the organization of the meeting of Ministers of [Trade and] Economy in Belgrade, but [Croatian Minister Martina] Dalić Minister has not received an invitation to the meeting, nor has [the Commissioner for Agrokor, appointed by the Croatian Government] Ante Ramljak,” N1 said on April 14.

Ivica Todoric, the biggest owner of the Croatian economic giant Agrokor, which is going through a tough financial crisis, has signed off a process of "extraordinary management", effectively putting the indebted behemoth under the control of the Croatian state.

Earlier, Croatia's parliament adopted a law, widely nicknamed the "Lex Agrokor", which gives the Croatian state a crucial role in the restructuring process, which may last up to 15 months, during which time company debts will be put on hold.

The business portal E-kapija last week said Slovenia was ready to adopt a similiar law on the retailer Mercator, to ensure money was not extracted from that company by Agrokor.  

Agrokor owes a total of over 1.3 billion euros to two Russian banks, Sberbank and VTB Bank, prompting fears that the banks might seize ownership rights and so give the Kremlin a major stake in Croatia's economy.

The company's role in the economy of Croatia is massive, with revenues of 6.5 billion euros in 2015 – almost 16 per cent of Croatia's total GDP – and around 40,000 employees.

Agrokor employs another 20,000 people in neighbouring Bosnia and Serbia, while it is believed that suppliers and companies for the Slovenian retailer Mercator – which Agrokor bought in 2014 – employ around 70,000 people in Slovenia.

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