A host of high profile bankers have spoken of their optimism for future trade in the Southeast Europe (SEE) region.

At the signing of the biggest regional syndicated corporate loan of 2012, representatives of the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) urged local corporates to follow in the footsteps of Croatian fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) manufacturer Atlantic Grupa, which has received a €307mn loan.

They also urged commercial banks to take confidence in the deal, which involved both development banks and commercial banks.

EBRD contributed €60mn from its own account to the first tranche of financing, with a tenor of fiveyears, and syndicated a €172mn loan to Raiffeisen Bank, UniCredit, Sberbank and Erste Bank, with a tenor of seven years. This will be used to refinance existing debt and for energy efficiency projects within Atlantic.

The IFC will provide the second tranche of finance, to the tune of €50mn with up to five years maturity, while the remaining €25mn will be provided by local subsidiaries of Raiffeisen and UniCredit (with a tenor of five years), to be used as working capital.

Gilles Mettetal, the EBRD’s director of agribusiness, told GTR at the signing that he hoped the loan would inspire other enterprises in the region. He said: “We are showing that professional companies with good standards, who deliver what they say they will deliver, are bringing in a lot of confidence. I was in Serbia last week, and this transaction is making a lot of noise. A lot of companies are saying: ‘I want the same!’ But to get the same, you need to improve the standard and that’s what we’re hoping to inspire.”

Mettetal praised the involvement of the commercial sector, adding: “We found that by putting up not a lot of money, we could raise a lot from commercial banks. We could attract commercial banks to longer tenors and attract the banks that weren’t working in the region a lot, like Sberbank. And we could do that because the banks had confidence in the EBRD. This shows a return of confidence to the region. It shows that banks are willing to commit finance to the region for a long time – it’s a very strong message. This is what should be our role; we should be leveraging the public money to attract as much private finance to the region as possible.”

Atlantic Grupa is a Zagreb-based manufacturer and distributor that has expanded its operations in recent years, exporting to the likes of Spain and Russia. In 2010, it acquired Droga Kolinska, a Slovenian manufacturer of similar size.

Jonathan Grosskopf, investment officer at the IFC, says the company’s development is encouraging. Speaking to GTR at the signing, he said: “If you think about what Atlantic has done in such difficult conditions, it’s remarkable. It had the strategy and vision to take the risk to acquire the Slovenian company in the post-conflict environment. Another problem in the region is that the market is so small and you have competition from global players. It’s difficult to stick your head out from the market, which is what they’ve done.”

EBRD president Sir Suma Chakrabarti spoke of the challenges that the SEE region faces: “The overall picture is of flat demand,” he said at the EBRD’s London headquarters. “How do we increase demand? Governments need to think openly and encourage regional integration. The private sector is leading the way [regarding integration]. We especially need to look at infrastructure in the region to make it easier for companies to trade.”

The EBRD, IFC and the European Investment Bank (EIB) have committed €30bn to support economic growth in SEE in 2013/14. Part of the challenge, said Chakrabarti, will be ensuring that SMEs in the region are able to get access to the capital.