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British Ambassador outlines priorities

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By Claudia Ariton
Increasing British trade and investment, strengthening the UK - Romania strategic partnership, as well as promoting a better understanding of Romania's exquisite ecosystem in rural Transylvania rank high on the list of priorities for British Ambassador Paul Brummell in Romania. Already fluent in Romanian, His Excellency talked about his strategy to improve bilateral relations in an interview with Business Arena, emphasizing that Britain was one of the most important investors in Romania, with direct investments of around 1.3 billion euro. With a degree in Geography, the British Ambassador says he has no trouble assimilating to life here, in a country where nature offers its best and which has managed to preserve a wonderful biodiversity. In his own words, "it's a real pleasure to be an ambassador in Romania"...
How would you characterize the current economic, political and cultural relations between the UK and Romania?
Our relationship is extremely warm and it is a longstanding relationship, the diplomatic relations between our two countries were established more than 137 years ago. The Danube and Black Sea railway was a British investment right back in the 19th century, demonstrating the history of our commercial ties.
We have a strategic partnership that was reiterated in 2011, and it is based around two pillars: security and prosperity. As regards security cooperation, I am delighted that goes from strength to strength, including strong practical cooperation between law enforcement agencies, that includes, for example, the presence of Romanian police officers in the United Kingdom, working alongside UK colleagues to tackle organized crime. Our defense relationship continues to grow and 2017 looks set to be the biggest year in the history of our bilateral defense relationship. We have a very large land exercise that will be taking place. We are looking forward to visit a Type 45 destroyer this year to Romania and the UK will be taking up Southern Air Policing over the summer, with British aircraft based here in Romania, working on the NATO Southern Air Policing operation.
As regards cultural links, again, I think they are hugely strong, hugely positive. I was very struck last year, when we were commemorating the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare, at the extent of knowledge of Shakespeare here in Romania, in the way that Shakespeare’s plays have shaped political and cultural life here in Romania. For example, the performance of Hamlet at the Bulandra Theater in 1985 was one of the cultural manifestations which highlighted some of the contradictions in the Communist regime, and I think it paved the way for the Romanian revolution in 1989.

What challenges and opportunities lie on the horizon for UK - Romania cooperation after the British vote to leave the EU?
We voted on the 23rd of June last year – a democratic vote, a vote of 33 million people – to leave the European Union, but that doesn’t mean leaving Europe. Romania will remain a close partner and a close friend and in terms of the UK-Romania cooperation I see that developing further. I see it continuing to grow, our friendship will remain and we will continue to strengthen our ties across security, across prosperity and across cultural collaboration.
As for the actual process of leaving the EU, there will be a negotiation. The Prime Minister has announced that we will aim to trigger Article 50, which is the article of the Treaty of Lisbon providing for a member state to exit from the European Union, by the end of March. That will herald a two-year negotiation. Of course, any negotiation involving a lot of people around the table is a complicated endeavor, this is uncharted territory, and there will be challenges in all of that. But I think it’s heavily in both the interest of the United Kingdom and in the interest of the European Union as a whole for the results of that negotiation to be very positive, constructive and successful, and I am sure that’s what will happen.
What is the volume of British investment in Romania and which business sectors could attract more investments from the UK?
I have just looked out the figures from the Romanian National Bank which report that there is something in the region of 1.3 billion euro that they have identified as British investment in Romania, involving more than 5.000 companies, and, I think, if you look at the pattern, the first and strongest impression that comes through is actually the range of British investment in Romania. British investment is present in a very wide range of sectors stretching from companies like Halewood and Recas, which have been investing here in Romania to modernize the wine industry and to bring more Romanian wines to export internationally, right across to companies like Vodafone, which have been modernizing the communication sector in Romania. I think probably the single fastest growing sector at the moment is IT, and that is characterized by companies like Endava or Paddy Power Betfair, which have been coming into Romania attracted by very high quality labor force, English-speaking labor force, great IT graduates from universities like those in Bucharest, Cluj and Iasi, setting up software, web development centers. So, British investment is involved in really cutting-edge IT business operations in Romania.

What specific improvements in the local business environment could encourage more UK investors to come here?
I think the key consideration really is that capital is a very mobile thing. All countries in the world are in competition for foreign investors, because foreign investment helps to grow an economy and boost prosperity. So, I think the challenge for Romania is to become as attractive as possible for foreign investment, and that includes the ways in which the government and administration make the process of investing straightforward, so smoothing the path to investing capital here. I think for investors it is very important to have a predictable and transparent legislative environment. For example, I was speaking recently to one group of investors, who had invested quite a lot in the renewable energy sector here, in Romania, and they were lamenting about the fact that the rules changed very suddenly and made an investment which had looked quite attractive very unattractive in a very short period of time. Obviously, it’s for Romania to decide on its own legislation, issues change, so of course there was a need to change legislation. But I think it’s important to bear in mind the likely effect of legislative changes for the investment climate.
I think it’s also about ensuring that the climate is a transparent one. I think the battle against corruption in Romania is really important, anticorruption agencies like the DNA and ANI are doing a really important and good job, and that needs to continue.

Are there any arguments to support the idea that bilateral business and trade levels could be maintained or even improved after the UK leaves the EU?
I would certainly hope that they will continue to grow. British exports to Romania increased by 17.5 per cent, so bilateral trade is growing strongly. Last year was the biggest year ever, I think, with nearly four billion euro worth of bilateral trade. One specific about our bilateral trade is that the balance is strongly in Romania’s favor. Actually, Romania is exporting far more goods to the UK, than it is importing from the UK, which is very good news for companies like Dacia, also for a range of textiles producers in Romania, for example, who have proven very successful in the ready-made clothing sector. So, I would think and hope that our bilateral trade will continue to grow and I think we should do everything together to make sure that the environment allows that to continue.

While there have been no official sta­te­ments on the issue, what kind of agreement do you think the UK and the EU could reach on protecting each other’s citizens’ rights in a post-Bruit landscape?

Our Prime Minister, Theresa May, made a speech back in January, called “A Global Britain”, and she addressed this point directly, highlighting that actually the UK wants to be able to guarantee the rights of EU citizens, including Romanian citizens in Britain, and wants other EU countries to guarantee the rights of British nationals in those EU countries as soon as possible. So, that is something that is very much in our minds, and we’d like to take that forward as part of the negotiation. The Romanian community plays an important role in the UK, we have great Romanian doctors and nurses supporting our national health service, we have Romanian students in all the top UK universities doing great work, studying hard, getting great results, and I think from construction to financial services to fruit picking you’ll find Romanians doing terrific things in the UK and that should continue.

Some Leave supporters have claimed that the EU cannot afford to impose trade barriers on Britain, as the British market is very important to EU-based companies? What is your view?
Again, our Prime Minister in her “A Global Britain” speech in January emphasized that the best option both for the UK and for the EU as a whole will be to agree an open and comprehensive trade agreement between the UK and the European Union when we leave, because a strong bilateral trade between the UK and all the countries of the EU is really important for us and it’s really important for every member state of the EU. It’s good for business, it’s good for growth, so that’s the solution which will be in everybody’s interest.

What would be the best possible outcome of negotiations between Britain and the EU?
I think the best outcome is an outcome which is good for Britain and good for the European Union. And, as our Prime Minister has emphasized, we want a strong European Union, we don’t want to weaken the European Union, that is not in our interest, and it is not in the EU’s interest. We are quite optimistic, quite convinced that a good, positive outcome will be achievable both for Britain and for the EU.

What are the main challenges that British investors have to deal with in Romania?
I think it is about ensuring a predictable legislative environment, ensuring that procedures maintain the safeguards which are necessary, but without excessive bureaucracy, making sure that everything is transparent, that playing fields are level and that there isn’t corruption in the system. Also, depending on the sector, it is more important for some groups of investors than others, but I think the other area that one hears from some investors is about infrastructure. And I think this is an important time for Romania. You have access to a lot of EU structural and investment funding, it is a big area of opportunity for Romania, and I think the more that this can be used to bring infrastructure up to the levels that you’ve seen in some of the other European countries, the more positive that will be to the overall investment climate.

Have you received any enquiries about this market from British companies recently? While Marks and Spencer has announced its intention to withdraw from several international markets, including Romania, are there any new British companies that plan to open businesses here?
Absolutely. Capital is very mobile, individual companies take decisions to expand and contract based on their own plans and fortunes, that is absolutely natural. But we have certainly seen a flow of interest from British companies. The Embassy is working very closely with the British-Romanian Chamber of Commerce. I was very pleased that the Chamber opened its first branch outside Bucharest last year, in Cluj, and I am going to be joining them later this year to open a second branch outside Bucharest, which will be in Timisoara. And I think that stronger presence across Romania of the Chamber is a reflection of the fact that there are a whole range of British companies, from very big players to individual investors in an individual restaurant, very specific small companies, looking at Romania, because there are a lot of attractions in doing so, I think not least the fact that Romania has one of the fastest growing rates in Europe.

What is your view on the proposed legislative changes that generated massive protests in Bucharest?
We have always made it clear that it is for the democratically-elected Parliament and Government here in Romania to decide on its legislation. But, nonetheless, the British Government welcomed the decision to withdraw the Emergency Ordinance 13 and that was around concerns that it appeared to have been introduced with an insufficient level of transparency and consultation and concerns too, including those expressed by a number of judicial bodies, the anticorruption bodies here in Romania, that it appeared to shrink the scope of corruption as an offence.  
The European Union’s Mechanism for Cooperation and Verification has just produced a report, at the end of January, which looked not just over the last year but over the last ten-year framework in Romania’s fight against corruption, and I think, on the whole, its conclusions were pretty positive. It recognized that Romania had achieved a great deal through the work of organizations like the DNA, through judicial reform, through new criminal codes, I think that a lot of positive effort had been achieved. It identified that there was still more to do, and set out a range of areas where there is a need for further focus. There was a caution in the report about making sure that gains are not reversed, because I think the report was written just at the time that the debate was emerging about what became the Emergency Ordinance 13. But, as I said, overall, I think it was a very positive picture, and we’d really encourage Romania to take the remaining steps which the CVM report has identified.

Have you travelled extensively in Romania? Which places have you enjoyed the most?
It’s a real pleasure to be ambassador in Romania, because it’s such a beautiful country. I love to get out and about, I studied Geography at university, so the world and its beauties have always absolutely fascinated me. For example, I went on a family holiday last summer right across Transylvania, which is absolutely beautiful.

Prince Charles is very fond of the Transylvanian historic villages.
Have you travelled to places like Viscri and Malancrav?

Absolutely! He has a very good taste. It is a beautiful part of Romania. I have been delighted to visit Malancrav, which has a wonderful Saxon fortified church, with some quite beautiful frescos inside. I have also visited Viscri, which is actually the site of His Royal Highness’s Romania Foundation, promoting a range of causes in Romania, promoting traditional crafts and skills, particularly those which are allowing the preservation of historic buildings and the preservation of traditional activities, such as embroidery. It’s a great part of the country, but there are also other terrific parts of Romania as well, from the beautifully-painted monasteries of Bucovina in the north, right down to the Iron Gates of the Danube in the south. I think Romania is probably insufficiently well-known internationally, I think the number of tourists coming to Romania could certainly be higher. Romania has a very strong tourist offer, and what I would urge, above all, is around the recognition of what you’ve got. Because I think Romania has preserved some ecosystems and ways of life which have been lost in most other parts of Europe, including the United Kingdom. A very good example, and I know it’s close to his Royal Highness’s heart, is the hay meadows of southern Transylvania, which are a very complicated ecosystem. They depend on traditional farming practices like scything meadows, which have disappeared in large parts of Europe. But through those practices they preserve a wonderful biodiversity. You get the carpets of wild flowers in May and June in Roma­nia, which you see nowhere else. I think these are hugely important touristic attractions.

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