The Croatian economy is showing a mild recovery after several years of crisis and more companies which are turning to European markets can count on better results, also in cooperation with Austrian partners, the Austria Connect conference heard in Zagreb on Thursday.

The first such conference in Southeast Europe was organised by the Austrian Foreign Trade Office in Zagreb together with sister offices in Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro, bringing together 200 participants from those countries, including Austrian entrepreneurs as potential investors in Southeast Europe.

The aim of the conference which, hopefully, will become an annual event, always in different country, is to promote the Austrian economy and its investment potential in the region, share the experience of Austrian companies in the region and connect with local economies, said Roman Rauch of the Austrian Foreign Trade Office in Zagreb.

He said that during his work in Croatia he noticed that local exporters and foreign companies' branches were more optimistic about the future.

Patrick Sagmeister, deputy director of the Advantage Austria organisation, said Southeast Europe was one of the most important European regions for Austrian exporters because of diverse markets and traditionally good relations. He noted positive changes in the region, including in Croatia.

Austrian Ambassador Andreas Wiedenhoof underlined the importance of Austrian-Croatian economic relations.

Austria is the second biggest investor in Croatia, with nearly EUR 7 billion invested from 1993 to mid-2015 which created over 35,000 jobs, and the presence of over 700 Austrian companies in Croatia, which operate successfully, paves the way for more investments and cooperation, he said.

Croatian Assistant Foreign Minister Joseph Gene Petric said underlined the importance of economic cooperation and good relations with Austria, adding that this conference was a bridge of cooperation which would help developing companies.

European Investment Bank (EIB) representative Jean-Marc Martin presented the EIB's financing options for private and public sector enterprise projects. In the 2014-16 period, the EIB lent EUR 685 million for small and medium enterprises through the Croatian Bank for Reconstruction and Development and several commercial banks, he said, calling on those in attendance to continue to submit their projects to the EIB for lending and consulting on business and financial plans.

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