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Undercooking economic diplomacy

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Foreign Minister Nicos Christodoulides made an intriguing announcement that either flew under the radar or intentionally planned to pave the way for our senior diplomat’s political ambitions.

In his address to the EY conference discussing the Cyprus Attractiveness Survey, he said: “The Ministry has been developing a Strategy for Economic Diplomacy, which will launch in early 2021.”

A few days later, members of the Cyprus Investment Funds Association (CIFA) had “a very productive discussion with the Foreign Minister on the future of the Cyprus funds industry,” adding that investment funds are considered part of the Ministry’s economic diplomacy efforts.

It is true that in recent years, forward-thinking people at the foreign ministry have hosted regular sessions on economic diplomacy.

A highly commendable initiative that touched on a wide range of issues and should continue. Only if the results are seriously considered by the decision-makers.

For decades, the weakest link in promoting Cyprus is the ownership of this enterprise.

Bumped from the Central Bank to the Finance Ministry, and from the Trade Ministry to what is now called the Cyprus Investment Promotion Agency.

As the Cyprus Tourism Organisation was unable to properly promote the island as a holiday destination, CIPA’s “Invest Cyprus” initiative cannot market the ‘Cyprus’ brand to global business because of our reputation as an economy with time-consuming regulations, made worse by accusations of corruption.

What can the Foreign Ministry do better, that CIPA has not done all along?

Is this not a sign of disapproval on the slow pace in marketing the “Invest Cyprus” package?

Or is it that our diplomatic missions will (at last) get themselves out of the vicious circle of talking about the Cyprus Problem to deal with promoting the benefits of doing business here?

Surely, this should have been the main purpose of having trade officers posted at our diplomatic missions overseas in the first place.

Some embassies are desperately sought after by our diplomats and their spouses as they get to mingle with more ‘cultured’ people, dine at fine restaurants and attend more prestigious social events then they do at home.

This is why relations with many countries have cooled over the years due to a lack of interest by some of our ambassadors stationed at key posts.

What the Foreign Minister should have done was first tell his entire diplomatic corps that promoting Cyprus as a business and investment centre should be their main task.

Through economic diplomacy and excellent trade relations, Cyprus can find better leverage to promote its political problem.

Trade ties often trump historic diplomatic relations, evident by the shifting geopolitical strategies of our neighbours while Cyprus has remained almost at a standstill.

If Nicos Christodoulides has a personal political agenda as the ruling party leader is indirectly accusing him of, then perhaps our Foreign Minister ought to tell the people at CIPA to get their act together.

And tell civil servants at the Trade Ministry they should implement the one-stop-shop mentality we have heard about for years.

We need to enhance our trade offices abroad manned by industry professionals and not civil servants (to avoid the gaffe of the Halloumi debacle) and start promoting all aspects of Cyprus – from energy to the environment, from shipping to tourism.

Economic diplomacy, as ambitious as it sounds, needs to start at home.