Irish agri-food companies “simply can’t ignore” opportunities in Ukraine’s cereal and technology sectors, a chief advisor of the Ukrainian Prime Minister has stated.
Daniel Bilak, chief investment advisor to Ukrainian Prime Minister, Volodymyr Hroysman, and CEO of UkraineInvest – a company aimed at promoting investment in Ukraine – envisages a number of growth areas to strengthen trade links between Ireland and Ukraine.
Following a recent trip to Ireland, Bilak – who lived in Co. Clare for a number of years – said the two countries already have a baseline to build upon.
Ukraine is a global export leader in cereal exports, oilseed production and sunflower oil exports.
In both the agri-food and technology sectors, I see great opportunities for partnership between Ireland and Ukraine. Ukraine’s two greatest strengths are brains and grains.
“We are now the third largest IT hub globally; and the world’s second largest exporter of cereals. Ukraine saw record agri-food exports in 2016 – exceeding $15 billion (almost €13 billion) – and already values are 24% higher than last year.
“We have a base to build upon, as a large proportion of Ireland’s maize imports originate from Ukraine. Respected Irish companies like Origin Enterprises, CRH, and Hermitage Genetics have invested in Ukrainian operations. Continental Farmers, an Irish farm company listed on the Irish Stock Exchange was sold in recent years to Saudi Arabian investors.
“Ukraine also has a lot to offer the Irish agri-food sector. We have a large and growing footprint for GMO-free crops and organic cereals respectively,” he said.
‘An attractive investment opportunity’
Bilak emphasised that Ukraine must do more, to add value to its supply chain. He said the country needs to move away from being a largely commodity driven exporter.
“Ukraine offers an attractive investment opportunity for Irish companies with food processing, innovation, supply-chain and marketing expertise to add value to Ukraine’s agriculture produce.
“Ukraine has a large consumer market of 45 million people, but we are also export oriented.
“42% of total Ukrainian exports for the first nine months of 2017 were agriculture related. Three quarters of these agri-food exports were destined for the EU and Asian market,” he said.
“We have a burgeoning agri-tech sector; Ukraine boasts some of the world’s best IT and mathematical experts. We are keen to combine the best of Ukraine’s human capital with Ireland’s recognised expertise and prowess in the commercialisation and internationalisation of technology,” he added.
Bilak swiftly sought to alleviate concerns that Ukraine may be “a risky or dangerous place” to do business.
“The upside of Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity in 2013, has been a refocus on the building new institutions. The government has concentrated on deconstructing and dismantling Soviet era structures; and on re-building a country.
“There certainly is a lot more work to be done; but, at the same time, a lot of progress has been made.
“Long-term Ukrainian investors have pumped $700 million (almost €600 million) of additional investment into the economy so far this year. Furthermore, Ukraine re-entered the capital markets this summer. This shows growing confidence from the market place in Ukraine,” he said.
Bilak said Irish agri-food companies “cannot afford” to dismiss the potential of the sovereign state in Eastern Europe.
“Ukraine has 42 million hectares of farmland – ten times the size of Ireland’s agriculture land area. 32 million hectares of this land area is arable – equivalent to about one-third of the corresponding EU-28 arable land area.
Ukrainian food-related exports are booming; our domestic retail market serving 45 million customers is recovering. Simply put, Ukraine is too big an opportunity to ignore.
Following constructive meetings with Enterprise Ireland in Kiev – the capital of Ukraine – last August, Bilak is confident that the government agency has “a strong understanding” of the Ukrainian market.