Goran Pitic, Serbian minister of international economic relations, expressed confidence Wednesday that Japanese companies will start investing in his country, given its rapid economic growth and political stability.

Noting that more than 20 major Western companies have invested in Serbia recently, Pitic said he expects Japanese firms with offices in Eastern Europe and Russia, including Mitsui & Co., Mitsubishi Corp. and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., to start investing in the former Yugoslav republic as well.

“The message I can deliver to Japanese investors is that the business environment in Serbia is getting more and more competitive,” Pitic said in an interview.

“Foreign capital inflow increased to $1.4 billion in 2003 from $60 million in 2000.”

Among the investors were United States Steel Corp. and Carlsberg A/S of Denmark.

Pitic said the macroeconomic environment is fully predictable in Serbia, citing its single-digit inflation, stable exchange rates against the dollar and euro, and solid growth rates of 3 percent to 4 percent over the last three years.

The minister, on a four-day visit to Japan until Thursday, made the remarks after meeting Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

He handed Koizumi a letter from Svetozar Marovic, president of Serbia and Montenegro, calling for stronger economic and political ties between Japan and the federal state.

As examples of the favorable investment climate, Pitic cited Serbia’s free-trade agreements with Russia, Hungary, Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and expectations that Serbia and Montenegro will be ready to join the World Trade Organization in three to four years.

The only Japanese company currently operating in Serbia is Daido Metal Co., a Nagoya-based bearing manufacturer. Toyota Tsusho Corp., a trading house in the Toyota Motor Corp. group, has a representative office in Belgrade.

“I strongly believe that the image of Serbia falls short of the reality,” Pitic said.

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