POLAND SEEKS US EXPERTISE TO FORM COMMODITIES EXCHANGE 2 NATIONS SHARE "SAME SPIRIT,' MINISTER SAYS

POLAND SEEKS US EXPERTISE TO FORM COMMODITIES EXCHANGE 2 NATIONS SHARE "SAME SPIRIT,' MINISTER SAYS

Sipping on a glass of beet and apple juice from his homeland, Poland's deputy minister for foreign economic relations, said he was visiting the United States in search of investors.

"U.S. capital is more welcome in Poland. There is no unpleasant past history between us," Andrzej Byrt said. "We sometimes remember Poland's historical difficulties if capital comes from other countries."Mr. Byrt was here last week to meet with commodity traders from the Chicago Board of Trade. The CBT recently began work with the city government of Warsaw to create Eastern Europe's first agricultural-commodities exchange. The CBT will train traders for the Warsaw exchange, and will invest in the operation, according to Mr. Byrt.

U.S. and Polish citizens share a common belief in hard work and capitalism, according to Mr. Byrt.

"Poles have this same spirit of new frontiers," he said. "We believe that we can succeed if we try."

Whether it is shared vision, or an absence of historical feuds, U.S. investors are pouring an enormous amount of cash into Poland.

Just last month, the Overseas Private Investment Corp. announced that an equity fund it sponsors had made its first investment in Poland.

The Poland Partners Fund is spending $2 million to help build a collection of Office Depot stores in Warsaw and other Polish cities. The total cost of the project is set at $8.5 million.

The recipient of the cash infusion is Potamkin International Polska, a subsidiary of Potamkin International Office Products, Miami.

Poland Partners Fund has more than $65 million in equity, and half of that comes from the pension plan of the AFL-CIO labor union, according to Ruth R. Harkin, president of OPIC.

OPIC is an independent federal agency that offers political-risk insurance and project financing to U.S. companies doing business overseas.

Investments by U.S. citizens and businesses in Poland total $1 billion. That's about a third of all the foreign capital in the former Communist nation, Mr. Byrt said.

Polish businesses are also looking to sell their products in the United States.

Take, for example, Mr. Byrt's glass of beet and apple juice. The juice is made by Hortex, a Polish company in the process of privatization. Hortex, with headquarters in Warsaw, had sales of $160 million in 1994. Hortex exports a variety of fruit juices, liqueurs, frozen fruits and vegetables.

The company is searching for U.S. importers and distributors, according to Mr. Byrt.

"They have good products, but they need tougher marketing," according to Mr. Byrt. "They are looking to sell their products, but also they need help managing the business."