Tue, Jul 2, 2019

Five reasons why investors are giving Ukraine another look

UkraineAlert by Daniel Bilak

Democratic Transitions Fiscal and Structural Reform Ukraine

Ukrainian presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskyy reacts following the announcement of the first exit poll in a presidential election at his campaign headquarters in Kyiv, Ukraine April 21, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo

The third Ukraine Reform Conference is about to kick off in Toronto on July 2, co-hosted by the Canadian and Ukrainian governments, and involving the participation of Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

This ministerial-level international event will build on the successes of the London and Copenhagen conferences, celebrating Ukraine’s progress and reform achievements, and creating opportunities to shape and inform its ambitious plans to strengthen democratic accountability, integrity, and prosperity for the Ukrainian people.

On July 3, the focus will then switch to Ukraine House Toronto, of which my organization, UkraineInvest, is a co-organizer, along with Ukraine House Foundation and the Victor Pinchuk Foundation. Launched two years ago at Davos alongside the World Economic Forum, Ukraine House drew more than 5,000 guests in its first year and over 100,000 online viewers this year.

Ukraine House Toronto is designed to promote the dynamic energy of the New Ukraine—a nation powered by innovation, a passion for freedom, and the creative talent of a highly educated new generation of Ukrainians in Europe’s largest country—to an audience of international media and global leaders.

This year, Ukraine House Toronto is a vital part of the Ukraine Reform Conference. It will be a vibrant hub of engagement and hospitality, involving a series of discussions around Ukraine’s contributions to the global challenges that shape our common future, including the impact of data protection, cyber security, artificial intelligence, big data analysis—all sectors in which Ukraine is a global leader. Discussions will also center on opportunities for investment in Ukraine’s electricity market, as well as challenges to western liberal democracy and global security, and a conversation on aerospace and rocketry.

The ambitions of Ukraine House Toronto arise from what UkraineInvest has witnessed over the last year: a renewed confidence in and interest among investors for exposure to the Ukrainian market. From my standpoint, Ukraine is back on the global investor’s radar for five compelling reasons:

  1. The latest presidential election, while at times feisty, was fair, transparent, and credible. There was a smooth transition of power, and a new administration assumed office. It is easy to overlook just how important that is. Many countries around the world, particularly those that used to be suppressed by a totalitarian regime, have struggled to create a functioning democracy. Ukraine has done so. The smooth transition underlines Ukraine’s status as a stable, secure, and predictable emerging market. It is another sign that Ukraine is moving forward as a modern dynamic Western democracy, with a 1,000-year-old European history.
  2. Relentless European integration. Ukraine has committed to a European future and has successfully reoriented its economy away from Russia toward the European Union. Half of Ukraine’s exports today go to the EU, and only 7 percent go to Russia. Since the signing of the EU Association Agreement in 2017, goods and people circulate more freely and the blossoming relationship has complemented a comprehensive economic reform agenda. After five years of deep structural reforms, economic growth is ramping up and foreign investment is flowing back into Ukraine.
  3. Skills and Scalability. Ukraine is the largest European country by landmass, with one of the most highly skilled workforces. It produces more engineering graduates than any other European country. It is not surprising that companies such as Boeing, Siemens, and Oracle have set up research and development offices in the country. Ukraine has space to expand, undervalued assets, and a good value, skilled workforce.
  4. Innovation. Ukraine went from being a back-office hub to an innovation nation. Ring, the application that lets one answer one’s doorbell using a mobile phone, is just one innovation that Ukraine has produced. Ukraine has already given birth to a unicorn tech investment with a valuation of more than $1 billion—Bitfury—and several more are climbing the valuation rankings fast including Gitlab, Grammarly, Petcube, Softserve, Ciklum, and the e-commerce company Rozetka.
  5. Quality of life. It is hard to get people to invest in a country, however attractive the terms, if the workforce has nothing to look forward to on the weekend. This perhaps partly explains the success of the City of London, with bankers preferring to be based there rather than Frankfurt, for example. Likewise, Kyiv and Lviv are fast becoming hot travel destinations, with people drawn in by great food, fun bars, classic architecture, and friendly locals. These are just some of the things that prompted Forbes to name Kyiv as “Eastern Europe’s coolest capital city” in April.

Above all, Ukraine House Toronto will be a platform for investors to explore all that Ukraine has to offer and more.

Daniel Bilak is the chairman of UkraineInvest, the Ukrainian government’s investment promotion agency.