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Efficient Trade for Competitive Advantage

by Karel Vandebeek, Regional Manager Trade Finance, KBC Bank

Central & Eastern Europe (CEE) is a region characterised by its potential and opportunity. Steady growth and a commitment to developing strong international trading relationships both in other parts of Europe and beyond, as well as building domestic markets, are set to propel CEE countries to a strong position on the world stage. This article describes how KBC developed in its Central European home markets (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland) a strong trade finance franchise by combining local business units on the one hand, operating close to their customer to respond swiftly to customer needs and local market dynamics, and by global efficiency on the other hand, mainly in the field of IT and country and bank risk.

Introducing trade in Central & Eastern Europe

In comparison with other regions in which banks in the KBC Group are active, Central & Eastern Europe is a large market in population terms, and has strong domestic as well as international business potential. The four CEE countries where KBC is offering its trade finance services have a combined volume of exports above 400bn USD and imports of above 500bn USD: this is comparable to a country like Italy and significantly higher than the flows of Belgium (KBC’s home base).

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Although CEE is often considered as one homogeneous market, it is definitely not. Also in trade the differences are significant: while the Czech Republic remains a very export-driven market with its strong tradition of ‘big export projects’ mainly to Russia and CIS, Poland is less export-focused, has a growing import and its economy was the one who survived the global financial crisis as one of the best; Hungary and Slovakia on the other hand typically combine a very important number of SMEs with a number of multinational companies attracted by the advantageous investment environment. Needless to say a ‘one size fits all’ approach would hardly work in these economies.