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The Warsaw Voice » Business » June 30, 2011
Business & Economy
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Poland Needs a Higher Profile
June 30, 2011   
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Witold W. Zabinski, president of the Polish-American Chamber of Commerce of the Southeast United States, talks to Marcin Mierzejewski.

What does your chamber do?
I represent two organizations, actually. The other one is a company called Corporate Strategies International (CSI) Inc. The Polish-American Chamber based in Atlanta is an association of 14 southeastern states. The chamber works to promote Poland in those states through all kinds of promotional campaigns, conferences, programs and trade missions. We want to give Americans an idea of what is going on in Poland. We are particularly interested in the energy and gas sectors. The chamber, established almost 17 years ago, is a nonprofit organization and its members work for it as volunteers. Now that a Polish consulate has opened in Atlanta, we have been gaining momentum lately, trying to build an image of what we call the new Poland. The thing is that America does not really know Poland as a modern country with well-educated people who work in international companies around the world and are very successful at that.

As for CSI Inc., it is a development company that designs strategies for international and global solutions. When Western, U.S. companies want to enter the Polish market, we work out the right strategies for them. Such strategies rely on a number of political and legal factors. We also do market research. The company has been around for around 19 years, over which time it has introduced capital worth around $1 billion to markets in Central Europe.

Is shale gas extraction of special interest to your chamber?
The chamber’s special interest is in promoting Poland. Two conferences focusing on that have been held so far, one in Washington and one in Warsaw. It has been proposed that the next such round table should be held this autumn in Dallas or Atlanta. The government factor was important during the first meetings and so we want to give a more commercial angle to the next conference. Before shale gas can be extracted in Poland, new companies will have to be established to, for example, deliver pipelines for a network to pump the gas. Engineering companies will be needed to provide an extraction system based on pumping water at high pressures. From the operational point of view, the project will necessitate many other such services and then a powerful marketing and sales network will have to follow. Being a development company, CSI Inc. has a part to play here as well by encouraging investors and contractors. Poland lacks people with appropriate expert training. As for launching shale gas extraction, there is a problem in that Poland’s power industry relies at present on heat and power plants, a majority of which are controlled by the government. American companies would rather invest billions of dollars knowing it is all founded on free-market principles.

What other sectors of the economy does the chamber operate in?
In all of them, in a word. Obviously, we focus on sectors which are of high importance at a given moment and so I should mention the power sector, outsourcing, which is not yet widely established in Poland, biotechnology, nuclear engineering and petrochemical engineering. We also want to build bridges between institutes of technology in the United States and Poland. I believe young people need the right training so that Polish engineers gain new expertise. A decade or so ago, sewage treatment plants were the hottest topic and I believe that experts in that area could be easily turned into experts in shale gas extraction.

One more thing that the chamber has been involved in is a center in Atlanta which will be established to foster the education of young people and cooperation between companies. The center would serve five countries in Central and Eastern Europe: Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia.

In what areas do you think trade relations between Poland and the United States are satisfactory and where is there room for improvement?
That’s a good question. Let me start by saying than in the States, Poland remains a largely obscure country. Americans underestimate the importance of the country and what it is capable of. Companies which have entered Poland and made their mark here have been enormously successful. I mean the likes of UPS, Coca-Cola, Johnson&Johnson and 3M. Just ask them and they will tell you they consider establishing a presence in Poland to be their greatest success, even globally speaking. Poland has been moving forward in recent years and, unlike in Western Europe, you can see development here.

As for what could be improved, I must say that Americans ought to be made more aware of the opportunities that Poland offers them. We, Poland as a country, do virtually nothing to promote ourselves. The image of Poland has to change and it has to be invested in. In the United States, Poland is being promoted by a handful of people, several in Washington and another couple of people in New York. That is far too few for the huge country that is the United States.

Will President Barack Obama’s recent visit to Poland influence trade relations between the two countries?
It definitely can, very much so. Every such visit gets huge coverage in the press, which is the first major upside. The other is that such talks mean a lot. Poland was previously visited by both President Clinton and President Bush and that should always be regarded as a huge success.
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