Czech Ambassador Jiri Brodsky: Czechs have a high interest in doing business with Mongolians

B.Nyamdari

2020-01-02 10:00 GMT+8

Our first interview guest of the new year is Mr. Jiri Brodsky who is Ambassador of the Czech Republic to Mongolia. 

2020 marks 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries and we had an interesting interview about significant events, historical relationship and business between the Czech Republic and Mongolia.

MONGOLIA WAS AN EXCELLENT CHOICE FOR ME

-Let’s start our interview about your previous occupations before you came to Mongolia?
- I have been working in the Czech diplomatic service for 16 years. After my studies at the London School of Economics I applied for a job of an analyst in the Foreign Affairs Department in the President's office and I won the competition. Two years later I became Deputy Director of the same department. I was working there for nearly ten years and then I crossed the virtual bridge to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where I worked in the Department for Northern and Eastern Europe. There, I was preparing for posting to Denmark, where I served as ambassador for four years, and then directly from Denmark I came to Mongolia. So far I've been here for two years. 

Ambassador of the Czech Republic to Mongolia Jiří Brodský is handing out credentials to the Deputy Foreign Minister B.Batsetseg  (September 2017)

-Of course there is huge difference between both countries. What was the first impression when you came to Mongolia after Denmark? 
- The weather in Mongolia is colder than in Denmark, but in terms of working environment and interpersonal relations, Mongolia is definitely warmer, if I put it that way. Simply, Mongolian and Czech understanding for each other is given by shared history. We also have good empathy for each other. 

When you look at the European Union circle, the Czech Republic is your best friend in the European Union

Mongolia was an excellent choice. After having traveled with the President on 89 visits to 44 countries, I knew where I was applying. I deliberately chose Mongolia, because I remembered I had visited Mongolia in 2006 and it is a country which has special relations with the Czech Republic. That’s why I chose to apply here. I didn’t want to stay locked in Europe. I think diplomats should have wider scope of abilities and knowledge than region-specific knowledge only. 

- This year marks the 70th anniversary of relations between our two countries. What will be the significant events during 2020?
-Thank you for mentioning this anniversary year. We have already started celebrating the 70th anniversary by inaugurating two ice sculptures of the most renown Prague sites on Sukhbaatar square, namely to Cathedral of St.Vitus and Charles Bridge.

From the right the Czech ambassador Jiří Brodský, designer P.Sergelen and artist Ts.Batmunkh

We are preparinging many public diplomacy events. For example, we will continue presenting a Czech film production, Czech jazz music and street art. We will also participate in Europe day on main square of Ulaanbaatar with the Czech stands, presenting different products that are sold in Mongolia.

We have continued supporting each other at international fora and continued working together.

We wish to make sure this anniversary is not celebrated only at diplomatic receptions. It should be celebrated through events targeted at Mongolian audience, as wide as possible. That is why I had a very good meeting with the CEO of the Mongolian National TV and Radio, we got in touch with the Czech television and we will be bringing back some renowned films and TV series, like “Flying Ferdinand” and “Arabela“, as well as new Czech TV production which is relevant and which could be popular in Mongolia. 

When it comes to foreign policy, we will certainly continue with high level visits. In March we already have a scheduled visit by Minister of healthcare coming with business mission of Czech companies that produce healthcare technologies and healthcare products. We are preparing a visit by the Minister of foreign affairs and hopefully it will be connected with the 10th jubilee transport of Przewalski horses to the Strictly protected area Gobi B in early June. This is a unique and successful project which has been high on the agenda of Czech-Mongolian relations. We want to celebrate the jubilee also in this way. 


- What were the key events of our cooperation over the last 70 years?
- As you know, our two countries used to be Soviet satellites. They both experienced the communist era. Mongolia and Czechoslovakia cooperated with each other and were close partners. Czechoslovakia was the second biggest trade partner to Mongolia after the Soviet Union, the trade volume constituted 6 percent of your foreign trade. 

Many Czech experts, especially geologists and construction engineers used to work here and made important contributions. Czech products like Karosa buses which were used in public transport in Ulaanbaatar, Jawa motorcycles, Skoda cars, Tatra trucks and Bata shoes were popular here. Our engagement in leather processing, in water treatment and in forestry, in infrastructure development, in building the first ever hospital in Ulaanbaatar and other public buildings, in discovering the Erdenet mine and other important sites in your mining industry - all these facts have represented important headlines in bilateral relations.  

I think that in itself is a good demonstration of the high Czech interest in doing business in Mongolia and with Mongolia. 

Of course, another headline was the fact that both our countries started their transition to democracy in 1990. We have continued supporting each other at international fora and continued working together. Although there was some slight pause but in my view it was a natural pause. Given the fact that the world has opened up for us we were both looking elsewhere in early 1990s, not only in the Soviet satellite states arena. So we have in time found a way back to each other and that is why the Czech Republic, as it's later came to be in 1993, put Mongolia on the list of priority countries for development cooperation. Since 1996, the Czech Republic has realized development cooperation projects worth more than US50 million dollars in the very sectors I mentioned earlier, which were there, and were known from before 1990. So these are the key events of the 70 years as I see them. 

For the Czech Republic one of the key foreign ambitions was joining NATO and the European Union. When you look at the European Union circle, the Czech Republic is your best friend in the European Union. That is my strong view, because of the fact that we have known each other for years and we have a good understanding for each other and we experienced the lack of freedom and therefore we know the value of freedom, democracy and we know the value of market economy and we belong among defenders of market economy and free trade on international stage.

The Czech Republic is greatly supportive of Mongolia taking advantage of the so-called GSP+ scheme, that means importing 6200 kinds of your products to the European Union member states without any customs and the Czech Republic could be your gateway to the European Union in this respect, in the very same way Mongolia could be the gateway for Czech companies to Southeast Asia. 

My ambition is to increase the number of Czech private companies doing business with Mongolia. That is certainly priority number one for this Embassy. 
 

-How many Czech companies and organizations currently operate in Mongolia?
-If you refer to permanent presence, then it's very little. It’s only two Czech companies and two Czech NGOs being permanently present. Finep is building blocks of flats in Erdenet with a local partner and Khaanzaa has been realizing several dozens of projects of waste water treatment plants. The NGOs which are operating here and are very active is People in need and Caritas, Czech based NGOs. We also work with ADRA that has office in Prague.

So I'm pleased and I appreciate the fact that these NGOs are operating in Mongolia. My ambition is to increase the number of Czech private companies doing business with Mongolia. That is certainly priority number one for this Embassy. 

-You mentioned that Czech company Khaanzaa have projects of waste water treatment. Specialists defined that we are nearly to become lack of pure water in the future. That’s why Mongolians need to use waste water treatment since nearby. Is there any opportunity to share their experience with us about using grey water?
-Yes, we are taking advantage of a special instrument which is called “expert support”. It is run by the Czech Development Agency and Mongolia is pretty successful, when it comes to applying for this support from the Czech Republic in the competition from elsewhere in the world. So just recently, the water treatment experts have been working for Water and Sewerage Authority of Ulaanbaatar and sharing experience how to deal with the challenging issue of cleaning waste water from the Khargia leather processing plant.

-In 2015, Mongolian and Czech companies founded MonCzechUranium LLC. What is the main activity of the company and what kind of projects are they implementing?
They are focusing on the geological research of radioactive minerals. The Czech company established two joint ventures with state owned Monatom. One is MonCzechUranium and the other company is Gurvansaikhan LLC which is a holder to mining licenses. 

In 2020, there could be already a trial production of the concentrate. Our Embassy is in touch with this company and we are interested in what they are doing. They continue in the best spirit of the Czech geological expertise and moreover, they have found a model which is I think very important, to do things with local partner, and for the local partner to have ownership of things. I think this is very important also in other sectors, not only in mining.

-How much do the Czech investors trust the Mongolians?
-As we see it, there is a high level of trust among Czech investors to Mongolia or I would say more broadly among Czech businesses. We see it every year, because every year we organize a business mission to Mongolia and the interest is higher and higher. Last year in October, the President of the Czech Senate came for an official visit on a special plane and the plane was full of businessmen. Their interest was so huge that we could have easily brought two planes. So we had to limit number of participants per company. I think that in itself is a good demonstration of the high Czech interest in doing business in Mongolia and with Mongolia. 

The Czech Republic is a country with the most numerous Mongolian community in Europe. 

-Mainly what kind of sector are they interested in?
There are traditional sectors such as mining, agriculture, energy, healthcare, infrastructure development, including civil aviation, and environment. A very important sector where we continue working together is forestry and in other areas that I mentioned, when it comes to protecting endangered species. So these are the principal areas but the Czech Republic has a special comparative advantage, when it comes to high-tech and smart solutions, new technologies. I would like to underline “Euro standard” smartest technologies and also artificial intelligence and internet solutions.

As I keep telling Czech businesses, Mongolia is very active on the Internet, it is a Facebook country. I think it's an increasing trend that people start shopping online and doing transfers online. So even in financial services Czechs are interesting in working together with Mongolian partners. We are also focusing on the domains which are really high tech and which are of value added, on e-commerce. 

CZECH REPUBLIC IS VERY HAPPY WITH MONGOLIAN CITIZENS LIVING IN OUR COUNTRY

-How many Mongolians are in the Czech Republic and what kind of area do they mainly work in? 
-As you know, the Czech Republic is a country with the most numerous Mongolian community in Europe. Currently 10 thousand Mongolians live in the Czech Republic. They are working for Czech companies and those companies are very happy and, I should like to add, the Czech Republic is very happy with Mongolian citizens living in our country, because they are really diligent, they are friendly and also assimilate very well, they are learning the language. We don't see them in the criminal records of the police statistics and they are loyal to the companies for which they are working. They also come from civilizational environment which is not that different from ours. That is why the Czech government decided that it will introduce a special regime for hiring labour addressly in Mongolia. 

I see this positively because these people will be returning back to Mongolia with a specific know-how and relationship to the Czech Republic. This can be seen at 20 thousand Mongolian alumni of Czech and Slovak universities who studied in our country before 1990.

There is a quota, 1000 work permits per year are being granted to Mongolian citizens, but in addition to that we keep the access open also outside the programme, so it's basically 1200 roughly per year. They mainly work in meat sector, leather processing, and in automotive, because the Czech Republic is a Central European superpower, when it comes to automotive. We produce leather seats for Volvo cars.

We produce Škoda cars, the smallest cars for Toyota, Peugeot, Citroen. We also produce Hyundai cars, tires, steering wheels and dashboards, anything you can imagine about cars. So that's where Mongolians work very well and also in food processing industry. We have a wide scope of food processing businesses that are very happy to employ Mongolians and we are also looking at using more expert labour force. So there is a quota 30 per year for hiring experts, with university education and some skills. 


I see this positively because these people will be returning back to Mongolia with a specific know-how and relationship to the Czech Republic. This can be seen at 20 thousand Mongolian alumni of Czech and Slovak universities who studied in our country before 1990. They are the ambassadors of the Czech Republic to Mongolia and I really see it every day. I would just like to mention, for example, Tsenguun Purevjav who is owner of Altan Taria company and others who greatly contribute to Czech-Mongolian relations.

-Yes, I really agree with that. The two governments have signed Social Protection Agreement 2019. What are the benefits of concluding this agreement?
-The benefits are both for the Mongolians working in the Czech Republic and, eventually, for the Czechs working in Mongolia. When they work in one of the countries, the agreement says that they will pay the insurance in one country only. The working years in one country will count as a period when they worked and it will be relevant for their pension.  

In Mongolian case this agreement stipulates that the Czech Republic will pay the pensions retroactively since 1995. So for Mongolians who have worked in the Czech Republic since 1995, this will be already counting for the pensions in the future. The ratification process is ongoing, but I am hopeful that on the Czech side the ratification in both chambers will be completed early this year and it will reach the President's office for the President's signature. 

-How many Mongolians got visa to Czechia last year? 
It was 3800 Mongolian citizens, who received Schengen visa issued by our embassy. It's worth mentioning that the Czech embassy also represents Switzerland, Slovakia, Poland, Estonia and Lithuania in Mongolia in short-term Schengen visa.

-What kind of visa do they mainly want to visit?
They are principally interested in short-term visa for tourism or business. We also see increasing interest in the reunification of families. Of course, this is given by the fact that we are issuing 1200 work permits per year and it's only natural that to those who work in the Czech Republic want to have their families around them. The short-term Schengen visa increase roughly 10 percent per year.

Apply for work permits, please don't rely on any middlemen and approach the companies directly yourself

-Please share us about the progress after changing the applicant timekeeping system and opening the Czech visa center.
It is a very positive storytelling in this respect. We cancelled the old telephone registration and outsourced Schengen visa with the VFS in the DHL building. People can come to register from the street, they don't need to apply a priori and can also use the online time slot on the internet with the VFS and it works well. We have positive experience with these slots. Despite the Schengen gives us 15 days for issuance of short term visa, the embassy usually receives the application the next morning after it is submitted to the VFS and we issue the visa within 2-3 working days. We are in no capacity to guarantee earlier issuance, because we are sending the information to Strasbourg and it must run through the Schengen information system, just to double check whether that person hasn’t any bad visa history or anything of that nature. I should also like to mention that we have been working very closely with Sky Plaza, because I was not happy about the fact that when I arrived two years ago, people were standing on the street and outside the gates of the Embassy. 

So we agreed that there will be a new building constructed and now there is a new reception building where people are safe, warm, comfortable, without being endangered by cars or air pollution or cold. It is a dignified embassy with extended consular section, both in terms of premises and personnel. 

I see it as a stabilized consular section, but I see one residual task and that is my strong message for your readers. Those of you who want to apply for work permits, please don't rely on any middlemen and approach the companies directly yourself. Don't pay any money to anybody. We are fighting these middlemen in close cooperation with Mongolian police. That is also why I suggested to my headquarters that we will publish the list of all 43 Czech companies registered in the special regime for Mongolia. So applicants will be able to approach them directly, respectively their HR departments, and not to rely on fraudulent middlemen who just want to collect their money. 

WE HAVE THE LOWEST UNEMPLOYMENT IN EUROPE



-In one of your interviews, you mentioned that you have a goal to develop the trade and business sector of the two countries. 
-The Czech Republic is an export oriented and export dependent country, a textbook case of open economy. Eighty-three percent of our export goes to the European Union member states, which means that we are putting most our eggs into one basket and we really should diversify and be looking at Asian markets. That’s what I'm telling our companies. 

I am pleased that last year we opened Czech business support center with a local partner who will be running the center who will be doing the service for Czech businesses which the embassy cannot be doing

The Czech economy is doing very well. We have the lowest unemployment in Europe and this is why the Czech companies are crying for labour force, also from Mongolia. Our economy is growing 2.5 percent which is, by European standards, a decent growth. The country is politically stable. The Czech export per capita is 41 million tugriks. It is interesting, if you compare it to Germany, which is incomparably bigger than the Czech Republic, but if you look at its export per capita, it is 40 million tugriks. It shows that the Czech Republic is very efficient in export. Our methodology of increasing bilateral trade is to be organizing business missions, be supporting the exchange of experts, organizing match-making meetings between businesses which are sector-oriented.

Every year, we realize the so called “economic diplomacy projects” through which we support Czech companies coming to Mongolia and we are organizing special targeted meetings for them, so that they talk to their Mongolian counterparts. We are also trying to find Mongolian partners for them. I am pleased that last year we opened Czech business support center with a local partner who will be running the center and who will be doing the service for Czech businesses which the embassy cannot be doing. For example, preparing a tender documentation or helping with finding a local partner because he has a local knowledge which is long-term. This is our methodology for accomplishing the goal to develop trade. 

-You also mentioned that during your appointment time you would try to bring the investment from the Czech Republic to Mongolia to double-digit million dollars. Has this number reached its target?
-Not yet in numbers, but I was referring to one respective project in energy sector. That is really our key focus. We would like to establish a joint venture with Mongolian state company UBEDN and produce smart meters, bringing the Czech technology, know-how and employ people locally and produce smart meters for your energy grid, so that is more efficient and more modern and more innovative. We are talking about the volume of investment worth 70 million US dollars, which is more than four times of the current trade turnover per year. 

The Czech company did what it promised that means it proposed a concrete legal document for this joint venture to be established. It hired Mongolian lawyers who said that the document complies with the Mongolian law. That is why we sent it to your Ministry of Energy for its consideration and I'm hopeful that it will find it approving before the parliamentary elections.

YOU EXPECT THAT THE COUNTRY IS BEAUTIFUL BUT IT IS MORE BEAUTIFUL THAN YOU CAN EXPECT

-You have been in Mongolia for 2 years. Please share us your most impressed thing during this time?
- I am mostly impressed with Mongolian people. They are really the key driving force for me to enjoy this job. I have been most impressed with the beauty of your country. You expect that the country is beautiful but it is more beautiful than you can expect. I'm trying to be an ambassador who is not sitting in Ulaanbaatar. I prefer to travel to different aimags and talk to governors and mayors. I will continue doing that also this year. This is the way to bring our countries closer together in my view and this is also what I'm enjoying the most in your country. 

Wherever you go, and it can be in the middle of nowhere, people are extremely hospitable.

Your country is so beautiful. If you go north, it really warms your heart, because it resembles our part of the world, that means it’s more hilly and greener. There are more forests. You also see farming, valleys full of wheat and some corn and then you go south and you will see beautiful desert and wild animals. You don't need any zoological garden in Mongolia because you have variety of animals in their domestic environment and that's a tremendous asset you have.

In terms of being photogenic, your country has a specific comparative advantage. That is also why I am trying to develop tourism between our two countries. Hence, we are also discussing what to do in terms of visa regime, in order to easen it both ways. Of course, we are maneuvering in the Schengen system, but there are ways to easen the regime. I think that Mongolia deserves more Czech tourists than only 1000 per year.

I would also like to mention that hospitality is very exceptional here. Wherever you go, and it can be in the middle of nowhere, people are extremely hospitable. And they can cook very good meal. Somewhere you wouldn't expect that they even cook and they are very skilled in preparing an excellent meal. So that's what I enjoy as well.

-On the other hand, please tell us with honest about if there is something that you made sad or frustrated in Mongolia? Maybe something that hinders our development.
-I think ambassadors should not get sad or frustrated. It's a wrong methodology for any ambassador. If  you forced me to answer that question, certainly there are moments when one does get sad. For example, I mentioned the ice sculptures. We created a special installation for the children, where they can take a picture and there is a special ice armchair, Christmas tree and a small child. The child is no longer there, because it was destroyed and removed from the surface of Sukhbaatar square. So this is certainly making me sad,  whenever I see people destroying something rather than building something. 

There are over 500 new chimneys together with smoke detectors, funded and installed by Czechia.

I am sad that over the consular counter – and this is unfortunately not an exaggeration - we see an everyday attempt to present falsified documents, falsified bank account or fraudulent information. People are trying to play games with the embassy, when it comes to visa applications.

This is what certainly makes me sad, but as I said, the positive side and the positive mood always prevail at the Czech embassy. 



-You already have noticed that air pollution is relatively low this year. How do you feel about Ulaanbaatar city’s air pollution?
-Of course this is a big problem and nobody has a magic stick which would change it tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.

 I try to walk to my office and don't go to every meeting by car. 

Again, the Czech Republic tries to help in this issue. Last year we realized small scale local project where we brought special Czech technology for chimneys. We installed them in the ger district and I changed the project deliberately together with People in need, in order to also install smoke detectors. So there are over 500 new chimneys together with smoke detectors, funded and installed by Czechia. This month we will be evaluating the system with the users, because the chimneys are supposed to reduce the emissions by 30 percent. The reason why we installed smoke detectors in addition is obvious - we didn't want to be hazardous with the lives of the inhabitants of the ger district.

Whenever I'm asked at schools or elsewhere about air pollution, I say “Well let's do something, each one of us”. For example, not always, but I try to walk to my office and don't go to every meeting by car. 

In Czechia, how people celebrate the Christmas and New Year holidays? 
When it comes to Christmas, despite majority of Czech population are atheists, Christmas is really Christian holidays. Therefore, many traditions stem from the Christian tradition in the country, that means we decorate Christmas trees, we usually decorate them on the very Christmas day, because we want the trees to be fresh. On Christmas Eve, little Jesus brings the presents in the evening for the children. Traditional food is carp (fried fish), potato salad and fish soup. We don't eat during that day, because in the old times, it was strictly prohibited by the Church to be eating on the day before the Christmas Eve. 

Of course both Christmas day and New Year is a time when we meet our family and friends and we celebrate with them. There's also a nice tradition on Christmas Eve, observed by some families, that you serve a plate for somebody who will just walk by or for somebody who is alone. Simply there is an empty chair somewhere and food is ready for somebody who's probably sitting alone in the neighborhood and doesn't have anybody to share the moment with. So I think that's a nice tradition. 

On the New Year’s Eve we watch the TV shows while we eat open sandwiches, decorated in a special way. Of course there are fireworks and special arrangements outdoors. On 1 January there are new year´s speeches on TV and people also visit families and try to spend a moment with each other and make new year´s resolutions. 

-Thank you for your time with us
-Thank you for the interview.

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