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New World Order

The European Union will soon be a bigger cash cow.

By Joshua Kurlantzick

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In recent months, most American companies have focused on China,now the world's biggest recipient of foreign investment. Thoselooking elsewhere have considered Southeast Asia and Iraq, whereU.S. firms will be rebuilding the country. But these entrepreneursare overlooking a potentially better market: the 10 nations ofcentral and eastern Europe that will join the European Union (EU)in May.

The new EU 10-Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia,Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia andSlovenia-doesn't provide manual labor as cheaply asChina, but they do have more educated work forces that are lessexpensive than in western Europe or the United States; wages inmost industries are more than 25 percent less than they would be ina western European country. "There is an extremely high [levelof skilled] labor," says Lindsay Lloyd, regional programdirector for Europe at the International Republican Institute, athink tank in Washington, DC. Joel Ranck, a PR entrepreneur who hasworked extensively in eastern Europe, says the Czech Republic'slabor force has become so skilled in English that it now competeswith Ireland for call-center jobs. What's more, once the EU 10officially become member states, companies will be able to movegoods across their borders and into older EU member states withessentially no customs controls or charges. (The countries will notstart using the euro common currency in 2004, however.) Most of the10 EU nations have also posted strong economic growth ratesrecently, signs they are solid long-term bets.

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