KYIV - Just days after Ukraine signed an association agreement with the European Union, Ukrainian businesses held an exhibition of their products to show the country, and the rest of Europe, that Ukraine is open for business.
Ukrainian producers say they are eager to get their products on European shelves. Ukraine’s wages are cheaper than in the European Union, giving Ukrainian producers an advantage but they also have to adhere to strict EU consumer guidelines.
Not all Ukrainian goods will be cheap. A pair of locally made speakers can sell for upward of $650, but entrepreneurs like Veronica Sinitsa of Pototskiy Sound Systems looks forward to the agreement opening new doors.
"This [creates] some new possibilities. This [opens for us] new markets, some ways to develop without corruption, without some taxation problems. We are very excited because we want our product to be seen, to be bought, and we want people to like it," Sinitsa said.
Some of the Ukrainian products on offer are of the more mundane kind, like cat food, soap, and tampons.
But their producers, too - among them Alexander Vorobey of Luxus Detergents, have high hopes.
“Today, Ukraine may become a second China for the EU and the world, because you can produce goods of high quality and affordable price here,” Vorobey said.
Many producers of Ukrainian products say they have developed and tested their products to meet high European standards.
A box of 16 Malva tampons, named after the national flower of Ukraine, sells for just under $1, about a quarter of the price in Europe. Oleksandra Salnykova of Malva Tampons says their products are en par with European ones.
“We produce our tampons of pure cotton. And when we made some tests of other producers of pure cotton tampons and our tampons, we are equal in quality,” Salnykova said.
And there is Ukrainian vodka. Tavern keeper Mikhael Romanov says if he does not drink all the good stuff himself, he may share some abroad.
“Probably in Europe or America, some states of America, it is possible. Why not?” Romanov mused.
The EU Association Agreement is the same pact pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych turned away from last November, prompting massive street protests which eventually led to his ouster in February and the election of a pro-European president, Petro Poroshenko, in late May.
While Yanokovych’s ouster has led to violence in the country’s east where pro-Russian separatists are battling Ukrainian troops, business owners like Salnykova say they hope the worst is over.
“We hope that, because of all these events in Ukraine, European people are more loyal to us nowadays, and we think, thanks to it, we will be able to represent our high-quality products in their market,” says Salnykova.
While the agreement must still be ratified by Ukraine’s parliament and the legislatures of all 28 EU member states, many already see it as a big step toward a better future for former Soviet republic.