HAMPSHIRE Chamber of Commerce has strengthened its Romanian links to help companies here sell into the expanding Balkan economy.

Timed to coincide with Export Week, the chamber hosted a delegation of politicians and business leaders from Romania.

The visit included meetings with local firms and a government ambassador-level conference in Winchester.

The initiative was designed to build on a bilateral accord signed with the Dolj regional chamber which has widened market reach for a growing number of Hampshire exporters.

Maureen Frost, Hampshire Chamber’s deputy chief executive, said: “Like us, our visitors are keen to build on the partnership agreement we signed in Dolj two years ago. Closer working means they have ready access to a whole range of services and suppliers from Hampshire as they grow their economy. This in turn creates expanding market opportunities for companies here.”

Hampshire Chamber facilitates help through BRIDGE, the British Romanian International Gateway Exchange. As well as an online trading platform, the exchange enables exporters to join trade visits, access market intelligence and procurement information, and receive other in-country practical support.

Among the companies being supported is Waterlooville-based circuit board specialist Spirit Circuits.

Managing director Steve Driver said: “BRIDGE has introduced us to Romania from the cultural, political and economic perspectives. They have helped us identify areas where we can build a factory to complement our UK and Asian operations and give us greater agility. We’ve completed a six-month investigation, signed a memorandum of understanding this week and plan to have the factory in place in the next 18 months.”

On the delegation to Hampshire were senior Romanian decision makers from sectors such as construction, energy, medical products and IT.

Visits were hosted at Spirit Circuits, the engineering and design firm Portsmouth Aviation, Farnborough Airport and DHL’s Eastleigh depot.

On a tour of the Southern Daily Echo offices in Southampton, the visitors met Editor-in-Chief Ian Murray and discussed aspects of the media in the UK and Romania.

The Winchester conference, held at the Mercure Wessex Hotel, included presentations from the Romanian Ambassador to the UK, Ion Jinga, and his UK opposite number in Bucharest, Paul Brummell. Both praised the event as a way of building partnerships between the two countries.

Mr Jinga said: “This is the best proof that enthusiasm and audacity can succeed in great projects. I see this as part of our wonderful partnership between Romania and the UK. Opening up business opportunities is one of my main priorities during my term as ambassador at the Court of St James. I would like to see such initiatives replicated with other counties and regions in Britain and Romania.”

Mr Brummell said: “I’m really delighted to be here at this important event linking Hampshire Chamber of Commerce and Hampshire County Council with Dolj County Council, the city of Craiova and Dolj County Council. I think it is a great example of local government bringing together businesses between the UK and Romania, exploring the really encouraging opportunities to develop trade between our two countries.”

Among others attending were Calin Huma, chief executive of BRIDGE, and Olguta Vasilescu, mayor of the city of Craiova in Dolj county.

The president of Dolj Chamber, Gabriel Catalin Vladut, said: “The first benefit of the link is the initial contact to understand the potential for investment in Romania. The second is to change the image of Romania for people in Britain, which can be of great benefit to us. For us it is very important to have investment in Romania. We are proving it is possible to have owners of companies in Britain and Romania. Such partnerships will change the image of Romania. My message is ‘Come to Craiova and invest’. The city is proposed as a European capital of culture in 2021. My aim is for us to collaborate together in the European Union to benefit small and medium companies. Then we can create benefits for companies, chambers of commerce and countries.”

The government department UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) identified 615 South East companies who exported goods to Romania in the final quarter of 2014. The figure is increasing year on year. The value of South East exports to Romania in 2014 was £113.4million. The largest proportion, machinery and transport equipment, amounted to £51.2million.

Romania is the eighth biggest country in the European Union by area, and, with more than 20million people, the seventh largest by population.

EU Ministers have agreed a €40billion, seven-year framework budget for Romania including a €4billion package of measures specifically designed to stimulate the economy.