HC Deb 06 March 2000 vol 345 cc465-6W
Mr. Alexander

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what steps he has taken to publicise the opportunities for British firms to take part in the regeneration of(a) Kosovo and (b) other Balkan states. [112960]

Mr. Caborn

On the initiative of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, British Trade International set up the joint Government/private sector Kosovo Taskforce to co-ordinate and promote the UK's response to the reconstruction opportunities in the province. The Taskforce has done much to publicise the opportunities for British companies to play a part in the regeneration of Kosovo. Indeed, arising out of the Taskforce's activities, a consortium of British companies, with financial support from British Trade International, was awarded the concession to manage Kosovo's power sector over the seven months from last October; this is helping ensure that the people of Kosovo get through the harsh winter. Through help from the Taskforce, another British consortium was awarded the contract for the first phase of the upgrading of Pristina airport.

During my visit to Kosovo last October, it was clear that the good will arising out of both contracts should help UK companies compete for other business, not only in these two sectors but also in other areas of activity. This will be particularly important as Kosovo moves into the next phase of recovery, with strategic infrastructure projects, designed to help secure its longer term future, being put out to competitive tender by the international agencies. I am confident that I will see UK companies making even more progress when I again visit Kosovo in June. British Trade International has posted an official to the British Office in Pristina on a short-term basis to draw the attention of appropriate companies to opportunities in Kosovo and to assist those seeking to capitalise on them; resources have been secured for the next financial year to fund this post for the longer term.

To keep the business community abreast of commercial developments in Kosovo, British Trade International has set up a website: its address is www.brittrade.com/kosovo/. This includes information on the activities of the Taskforce and the international funding agencies—including information on projects they are funding. Kosovo has been an early and demanding test of British Trade International; it has been widely praised by the private sector for all its initiatives there.

Many companies regard Kosovo as the springboard for entry to the wider South East Europe region (the Balkans) which presents significantly more business opportunities; these are highlighted on the Kosovo website. Through promotional events such as seminars, support for trade fairs and missions, British Trade International continues to draw the attention of UK companies to commercial opportunities generally in all the markets of the region.