Warsaw, 27th July 2023
“The time is now”. This is the conclusion from the “Europe–Poland–Ukraine. Rebuild Together ‘23” conference and advice for all those wondering whether to already invest in Ukraine
On Thursday 20th July in Warsaw, the 2nd edition of the international conference “Europe–Poland–Ukraine. Rebuild Together” took place. Almost as many as 1000 participants, a lot more than a year before, came to the Hilton Hotel in Warsaw to listen to 59 experts who voiced their opinions during the event. “Let’s hope that when they go back to their offices, they will pass on the positive conclusions of the conference and will become motivated to get involved on the Ukrainian market,” said Cezary Kaźmierczak, President of the Union of Entrepreneurs and Employers ZPP who summarised the entire event.
Last year’s edition of the “Europe–Poland–Ukraine. Rebuild Together” conference answered the question “Should we invest in Ukraine during the conflict?”. In 2023, the question posed by the organisers and participants evolved towards “When should we invest?”. The answer to this question, a simple sentence that summed up all the opinions voiced last Thursday at the Hilton Hotel, came from Andrzej Kopyrski, Vice-President of the Management Board of PKO Bank Polski: “The time is Now”.
During five plenary sessions, invited guests discussed such issues as: Polish-Ukrainian relations in the context of the Western world’s plans for the reconstruction of Ukraine, investment prospects, financing and guarantees for entrepreneurs.
During the first session, Minister Michał Dworczyk emphasised that research on the attitude of Ukrainians towards other countries shows that Poland is an unrivalled winner with a positive attitude among 86% of the society. “This proves how good the relations between our countries have become. Such positive perception of Poles as well as Polish enterprises and products in this context is certainly the most important capital from which we can draw,” he added.
Serhiy Pylypenko, ICG Kovalska CEO, pointed out during the debate how receptive the Ukrainian market was. He noted, among other things, the lack of a manufacturer of plasterboard products in Ukraine, for which there is a huge demand during reconstruction. He even stated that whoever builds their factory in Ukraine first will likely monopolise the market.
Serhiy Tsivkach, Executive Director at UkraineInvest, mentioned that large Polish companies from the construction industry already had their facilities in Ukraine. However, how prospective this market is, indicates the fact that financial support for projects related to the reconstruction of Ukraine worth USD 400 million had already been declared – and these are not military projects, but infrastructural ones.
The Conference was also attended by a group of officials from Kharkiv, the second largest city in Ukraine, headed by Mayor Ihor Terekhov, who presented plans to rebuild the city’s infrastructure and described the potential of Kharkiv as a city with a strong IT industry and abundant scientific and teaching facilities. During his speech, he also guaranteed favour for Polish companies and transparency of investment processes. He assured that his city’s authorities were at the disposal of Polish entrepreneurs at every investment stage.
Going back to Andrzej Kopyrski whom we quoted above, one should mention that KredoBank (belonging to the PKO Bank Polski Capital Group) has been operating in Ukraine continuously since the outbreak of the war. Currently, together with Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego, the Polish Development Fund PFR and KUKE, KredoBank is involved in the guarantee system for investors on the Ukrainian market. Kopyrski pointed out that the project of rebuilding Ukraine may be an opportunity of the century for the Polish economy.
One of the plenary sessions touched upon the prospects of Ukraine joining the structures of the European Community, as well as the country’s integration with Western markets. Horst Heitz, chairman of the Brussels-based Steering Committee of SME Connect, stated that EU institutions, as well as individual Member States, should encourage Ukraine to implement reforms so that Ukrainian law complies with EU legislation. The country’s rapid reconstruction of its infrastructure is the key to its further development.
Yaroslav Demchenkov, Deputy Minister for European Integration at the Ukrainian Ministry of Energy outlined the energy strategy for Ukraine until 2050. The objective of this strategy is to full integrate with the EU energy market, whereas integration with the Polish energy market is to take place within the next 5 years. He assured that Ukraine wanted to be in the EU’s avantgarde of green energy. The topic of energy was also elaborated on during one of the industry discussion panels.
Piotr Sabat, Member of the Management Board for Development at ORLEN, stressed the fact that ORLEN had already been involved on the Ukrainian market prior to the war, mainly in the fuel sector. He then emphasised that this market was a big challenge due to the legislation in force and the normalisation of the energy market. A factor that affects the Ukrainian market is also the shadow economy in fuel trading. Nevertheless, ORLEN on an ongoing basis analyses both the situation in Ukraine and the prospects for expanding its operations there.
Jan Sarnowski, Member of the Management Board at KUKE S.A., said that rebuilding supply chains remained a challenge. “Nonetheless, it is noteworthy that banning imports of products from Russia made it possible to replace them with Polish ones, especially in the food industry. It should also be emphasised that KUKE, as the only foreign insurer, remained on the Ukrainian market after the outbreak of the conflict and provides surety bonds on pre-war terms,” he stressed. He also commented on the fact that the number of entities exporting from Ukraine decreased by 1/3, yet those that remained on the market increased their market share by 40%.
Luca Ponzellini, Deputy Head EU Neighbourhood Banking Division, European Investment Bank, described the enormity of funds that had been mobilised for the reconstruction of Ukraine. A few weeks before the Conference, the EIB and the European Commission signed an agreement on financial support in the amount of EUR 375 million for the SME sector. Individual Member States’ programmes amounted to date to EUR 600 million. This means that funds amounting to almost EUR 1 billion will be at the disposal of potential investors.
The guests gathered at plenary sessions debated on an extensive range of topics, while Polish and foreign guests focused during industry sessions on 4 markets: energy, digital, health and labour.
Major conclusions of Rebuild’23 Industry Sessions:
The role of new technologies in the reconstruction and development of the Ukrainian economy
The digital industry responded immediately to the Russian aggression in Ukraine, trying to maintain or even develop its activities within the country to the highest degree possible, as well as providing direct financial and humanitarian assistance.
While the IT sector is the only one in Ukraine not to be affected by the recession in 2022, a certain slowdown in the industry has been observed this year.
There is great potential for exchanging experiences between the Polish public sector and its Ukrainian counterpart in the field of digitising services for citizens and businesses. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated digitisation processes in Poland, while Ukraine is one of the leaders in the field of digital public services. For example, the Diia app offers 14 digital documents and provides 21 online services.
Both Polish and Ukrainian digital sectors have a number of significant market advantages (access to excellent specialists, absorptive markets, preferential legal solutions), but at the same time key development gaps, for instance, workforce shortages or regulatory barriers.
The speakers agreed that the sector of new technologies played a critical economic role in both countries and could become a vital driving force in Ukrainian reconstruction. When it comes to the coexistence of the Polish and Ukrainian industries, the target model should probably take the form of friendly competition with the fullest possible use of synergies resulting from the potential of both markets.
Ukraine’s energy shift towards EU integration: milestones
Since the beginning of the war, Ukraine’s energy infrastructure has been the main target of Russian attacks. A report by the World Bank dated April 2023 estimated total losses at USD 6.5 billion, with USD 3.9 billion in generation, and USD 1.9 billion in networks – and that covers only the area controlled by the government in Kyiv.
The modern operational challenges that Ukraine is facing in the field of power infrastructure resemble the problems faced by Polish grids more or less 45-50 years ago. And although the war exacerbated the scale of the challenges, as Russian attacks caused unforeseen infrastructural damages, transregional transmissions had been an obstacle to the proper balancing of the system already prior to the war.
Before the war, the Ukrainian energy sector was responsible for generating 72% of the particulate matter produced in Europe. The accountable power plants have no raison d’être in the reconstructed energy system.
Presently, the issue of balancing the Ukrainian system, after merging it with the EU, has become a pan-European affair. In the first year of the synchronised UA-EU market, approx. 800 GWh of energy vanished, which was not regulated as trade flows. Furthermore, within cross-border exchanges, the surplus of energy contracted in trade agreements introduced to the European grid amounted to approx. 6 TWh, and 3 TWh was sent to Hungary, with which Ukraine had not contracted these flows.
Before Ukraine starts earning significant amounts from cross-border transmission, the issues of regulation of the Ukrainian system need sorting out. That system is based on a steam and gas system while regulation is based on hydropower installations. As a result, it reacts slower than the European system based on turbine generators.
The example of Poland’s development after accession to the EU is proof that only the enforcement of uniform regulations, a common market, uniform tender procedures and anti-corruption mechanisms had the power necessary for international economic relations to gain momentum. That same scenario is expected in Ukraine, maybe even quicker than in Poland, provided that legislative solutions are urgently adapted.
Ukraine is already today seeing a slow recovery in demand for energy, but there is lacking infrastructure and room for efficient investments in distributed energy, which seems to be the only direction for Ukraine.
Despite the enormous efforts in the process of repairing current damages and removing failures, Ukraine is developing plans to build hybrid installations, to develop a storage system, and to initiate hydrogen projects. The challenge lies in finding partners who, in many cases, have suspended their operations out of fear for their employees.
Everyone present at the session agreed that Ukraine’s energy system following the Russian war should be rebuilt in a new design and have new tasks, such as supplying the EU with surplus green energy. For now, however, there are potential problems with raising funds for this purpose.
With a huge RES potential estimated at 900 GW along with other emission-free sources, such as nuclear energy, Ukraine has a chance to become an important supplier of green energy not only for the needs of its own transformation, but also of the entire EU.
The role of economic migration on the Polish and Ukrainian labour market in the nearest future
The data indicate that 500,000 migrants from Ukraine are responsible for an additional increase of 1% in Poland’s GDP. Although at the beginning of the war Poland was the main direction of migration, today our country is increasingly less attractive for refugees to live and work.
In 1991, Ukraine had a population of 52 million, and in 2023 its population fell to 29 million. Currently, there are approx. 8 million Ukrainian citizens living abroad. This indicates significant problems for the Ukrainian economy and labour market that may arise after the war, along with the beginning of investments related to the reconstruction of this country.
Poland is currently one of the countries struggling with the greatest demographic problems in the world. Day to day instability is also not conducive to decisions regarding having a family. While Poland has a fertility rate of 1.26, there are many indications that it has dropped in Ukraine below 1.
Polish companies are nowadays struggling with a considerable shortage of employees. Undoubtedly, refugees from Ukraine who have been coming to Poland since the beginning of the Russian invasion are of great value to our economy. The problem with lacking workforce, which currently affects Poland, may in the future impact Ukraine. It is crucial for our country to be able to both attract Ukrainians to work here and to retain them after the war.
The scale of housing problems or the need to provide childcare to single women is of key importance in settling in Poland. The role of learning the local language in enabling migrants to stay permanently in our country is frequently emphasised. It is also imperative to facilitate the recognition of qualifications.
Many companies and institutions run activation and training programmes for migrants from Ukraine. Some of these initiative are run in cooperation with the Union of Entrepreneurs and Employers.
The transformation of the Ukrainian economy will be very similar to the Polish transformation. Poland has already gone through this process and has experience with processes related to it. Furthermore, no business culture in the European Union is as close to the one in Ukraine as that of Poland. The Polish transformation from an emigration market to an immigration economy was very rapid. Today, we issue more work permits than Germany, for instance. We can without a doubt share this experience and it can be very valuable for Ukraine.
The pharmaceutical sector in Poland and Ukraine: the potential for partnership in the context of war and European integration
Ukraine is the largest country in Europe in terms of area, ranks 6th in terms of population size and 2nd in the number of cancer patients (1.2 million).
From the healthcare perspective, Ukraine has been struggling with such problems as: the lack of reimbursement or mutual recognition, restrictions on certificates of compliance with EU standards since the COVID-19 pandemic until the current military operations. On the flipside, one can be optimistic due to the openness to cooperation with the Western pharmaceutical industry, the country’s motivation to become as soon as possible an important member of the European Community with a significant place in European health policy. As of now, the Ukrainian Ministry of Health has decided to attach great importance to medical research in the economic strategy for Ukraine until 2030, which is currently under development.
Even prior to the war, Ukraine had had a highly developed pharmaceutical and scientific sector. This was a legacy that had been growing in recent decades. Our eastern neighbour exports drugs to over 50 countries around the globe, including numerous member of the EU, and medical products manufactured in Ukraine are sold on all continents.
Presently, the reconstruction of the Ukrainian healthcare requires: continuous development of pharmaceutical companies, cooperation based on dialogue, mutual understanding and trust.
Secretary of State Marcin Przydacz, Head of the Office of International Policy in the Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland, gave the closing speech at the conference. He presented the three advantages Polish companies have in the reconstruction of Ukraine: we are the geographically Ukraine’s closest partner with infrastructure at the ready, we are now on the best terms ever in history, we are culturally and linguistically close, and the largest minority in Poland are now Ukrainians.
As Cezary Kaźmierczak, President of ZPP, concluded his speech: “(he) who will be the first on the Ukrainian market will have the most time to dominate it”. ZPP is the only Polish association of entrepreneurs that provides assistance in Ukraine through their offices in Kiev, Lviv, Lutsk and Vinnytsia.
The conference in its entirety, along with industry sessions, is available on the YouTube channel of the Union of Entrepreneurs and Employers: https://www.youtube.com/@ZPPnetpl.
The event’s agenda can be found at: https://ukraina.zpp.net.pl/rebuild_together.