Building off of an agreement signed with the Israel Export Institute in 2005, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) signed contracts worth an estimated $300 million with numerous local companies and banks in 2006, as it seeks to expand Israel's cooperation in the rebuilding of eastern Europe. The EBRD was established in 1991 during the fall of communism in cental and eastern Europe as ex-Soviet countries needed economic support to foster the growth of a new private sector in a democratic environment. Today, the EBRD is the largest single investor in eastern Europe and it provides project financing for banks, industries and businesses, and also works with publicly owned companies to support privatization, restructure state-owned firms and improve municipal services. Among the Israeli companies that signed contracts with the EBRD was Tnuva Romania, the Basar Europe Group and the Kardan Group. Additionally, the Israeli banks Mizrahi-Tfahot, Hapoalim and Leumi agreed in principle to begin financing a number of the EBRD's building projects in Russia, Romania and Ukraine The Israel Export Institute is the local body responsible for coordinating the negotiations between Israeli companies and the EBRD, and its chairman, David Artzi, commented last week that Israeli businesses and banks can offer more than money for the EBRD's projects, as they also bring with them a wealth of knowledge and know-how from 50 years of development, which transformed Israel from a gravely underdeveloped country into a world leader in many different sectors. "Israeli companies and the Export Institute will help the EBRD in plotting their future plans, in addition to providing banking advice, coordinating new projects and arranging seminars and conferences in Israel on behalf of the EBRD," he said. Dr. Hedva Bar, Israel's representative to the directorate of the EBRD, believes that Israel's participation in the EBRD will help reduce the political and financial risks that are now facing many countries in the Former Soviet Union, as it will provide the much needed economic support in order for nations across eastern Europe and central Asia to complete vital infrastructure projects. According to the Israel Export Institute, in 2006 the EBRD financed some 300 projects in 29 countries worth an estimated â‚¬4.9 billion. Approximately 80 percent of the projects the bank finances are in the private sector, including real estate, infrastructure and transportation initiatives. Through its investments, the EBRD is able to promote structural and sectoral reform, competition and entrepreneurship as well as stronger financial institutions and legal systems.