As an agency created to boost foreign investment in Cyprus, you would expect it to be good at promotion. And it is. But what the Cyprus Investment Promotion Agency (CIPA) never does is promote itself.
“We’re not here to take credit but to achieve results,” Christodoulos Angastiniotis, its no-nonsense chairman, says.
CIPA’s modesty means that while many people are aware of its existence, most know little about how it operates. So, the Cyprus Mail invited itself into its offices on Nicosia’s Makarios Avenue to have a look at a typical day in the life of CIPA – and left exhausted.
Phones ring constantly. People bustle in and out of meetings. Visitors come and go, as do staff, because the job requires getting out a lot. Everyone seems to be a multi-tasking workaholic. They need to be.
CIPA has just 10 salaried staff, although there is invaluable support from its board members, who are not paid. Operating under the Ministry of Energy, Commerce and Industry, the agency’s budget is 30 times smaller than the Cyprus Tourism Organisation’s.
What CIPA does can be summed up in three words. Promotion. Facilitation. Advocacy. Hence the need to build and foster relationships in countless face-to-face meetings.
There are meetings with parliamentary committees and ministers to help draft bills to enhance the investment framework. There are meetings with the public sector, meetings with the private sector, and meetings with international experts and consultants.
And, of course, there are meetings with stakeholders and clients. CIPA acts as a partner for businesses and individuals considering investment into Cyprus and, once they do so, provides continuous support. CIPA is their single point of contact. It helps investors to map out their journey and facilitate it in every way possible.
On the morning the Cyprus Mail visits, CIPA’s director general, Natasa Pilides, is making final preparations for a workshop with stakeholders in the energy sector to see what assistance it can offer. Participants include the world’s two biggest oilfield services companies, Schlumberger Ltd and Halliburton Co, which have made Cyprus their base for operations in the east Mediterranean. Another is Noble Energy, the US firm which made Cyprus’ first natural gas discovery offshore in 2011.
Pilides pauses to answer her phone. It is a call about CIPA’s work on reforming legislation to encourage foreign film-makers to use locations in Cyprus. “It’s a new market with a lot of potential,” Pilides says.
As well as promoting investment opportunities in Cyprus’ traditional sectors, such as shipping, tourism, professional services and real estate, CIPA works to identify sectors with potential for rapid growth. These include renewable energy, research and development, and medical tourism. All are areas in which Cyprus can capitalise on one of its biggest attractions to foreign investors – its human capital.
With more university graduates per capita than most developed countries, Cyprus has a competitive edge. But there is a constant need to ensure that they are ready to fill jobs in emerging sectors, hence Cyprus is investing more in higher education as well as in research and development.
“What we’re trying to do now is diversify the skill set,” Pilides says. “Innovation and technology is an area that needs a lot of attention.”
Leading multinational companies in this field, such as NCR and the Israeli multinational IT company, AMDOCS, are already well-established in Cyprus, which has also attracted a growing number of other Israeli IT companies in recent years. As well as providing jobs, they bring in expertise and know-how.
This strategy is already paying dividends. “We have a considerable number of companies that are headquartering here and it’s an area with a lot of potential,” Angastiniotis says. Other companies are using Cyprus as their regional headquarters, or establishing back offices, while the assets of investment funds under management in Cyprus have tripled in less than three years.
Cyprus is also making strides to establish itself as a regional education hub, with growing US, British and other foreign investment in its tertiary education sector. The University of Central Lancashire has built its first overseas campus near Larnaca, at a cost of €53 million.
Any meeting in CIPA’s offices seems to inspire an impromptu brainstorming session. It is no surprise when Pilides suggests that a Russian university in Cyprus would be a good idea, given the size and dynamism of the island’s Russian business community. “It could cater for all their children growing up here,” she says.
Looking to the future is just one part of CIPA’s job. As important is supporting companies that have already invested in Cyprus.
“A lot of our existing companies want to grow in the existing environment and they offer as much potential as the new ones coming in,” Pilides says.
So CIPA places a high value on providing a good “aftercare” service, which is one reason why so few investors pulled out of Cyprus after the ‘bail-in’ of the island’s two leading banks in March 2013.
To keep existing companies satisfied and attract new ones, CIPA has lobbied hard to reduce bureaucracy in the public sector, which is still the main complaint of foreign investors. E-government systems have been set up, and digitisation is underway at the registry of companies, which has been completely overhauled recently.
Angastiniotis says CIPA relies on its good relationship with the presidency and public sector to ease the way for priority investment projects. “We get teams of people around the table and try to expedite the process.”
But, he adds, the “real change in fighting red tape” and facilitating strategic investments will come with the forthcoming establishment of a Deputy Ministry of Growth and Competitiveness.
Time spent on advocacy at home is matched by the hours CIPA staff and board members preparing for investment conferences abroad. Presentations must be crafted, press releases written, and interviews set up with foreign and Cypriot media.
When we meet, Angastiniotis and Pilides have just returned from a major event in New York. There have also been investment conferences or exhibitions in Shanghai, Mumbai, Dubai, Moscow and London.
Fast approaching is a key occasion, the second Cyprus Investors’ Summit, scheduled for September, for which the CIPA team is busy screening projects to present. It should be less daunting than the first Investors’ Summit that was held in Limassol in February 2015, just two years after Cyprus’ traumatic bailout. Yet even that summit was hailed a success. Now, however, with the annual rate of growth nudging 3 per cent, Cyprus is one of the EU’s best performing economies. But it is not CIPA’s style to claim any of the credit.