Close to 17,000 people work in Dutch companies in Serbia
The Netherlands is by far the biggest investor in Serbia with almost €4 billion worth of FDI. They are successful in a wide range of sectors – from agriculture, shipbuilding and beer brewing to IT, manufacturing, consultancy, design and many others. We talked to the Director of the Dutch-Serbian Business Association, Djordje Petrović, about cooperation between these two countries.
How would you rate the economic cooperation between the two countries generally and especially during the coronavirus pandemic?
I think that the economic cooperation between the two countries has been on a high level, in the period from 2010 to 2020. The Netherlands is by far the biggest investor in Serbia with almost €4 billion worth of FDI. Close to 17,000 people work in Dutch companies in Serbia, and many of those companies and products they make are household names that people in Serbia encounter every day. Dutch companies are successful in a wide range of sectors – from agriculture, shipbuilding and beer brewing to IT, manufacturing, consultancy, design and many others.
Even though it was a quite challenging period, during the pandemic, the cooperation didn’t suffer too much. In late 2020, we had a meeting of the Dutch business community in Serbia and many companies told us they had been planning to make new investments in Serbia this year. At this moment, the DSBA has almost 50 members and we are proud of this success which we have achieved in a relatively short time, especially when you bear in mind that we are not open to everyone, but only to the Dutch companies operating in Serbia and Serbian companies that have close economic ties with The Netherlands. We recently had the General Assembly of the DSBA where we also welcomed new members, including KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, the oldest airline in the world, who re-launched its Belgrade-Amsterdam flight after 30 years.
The Netherlands is by far the biggest investor in Serbia with almost €4 billion worth of FDI
What else could the Government of Serbia do this year to help businesses to overcome the crisis as quickly as possible, especially when it comes to SMEs?
Reducing payroll tax and contributions and fostering better cooperation between institutions in paying attention to the needs of businesses, as well as implementing subsequent actions in accordance with those needs, would help SMEs a lot. It is very important to have a level playing field, simple administrative procedures and legal certainty. It is of crucial importance that the government continues implementing measures that work towards improving the business environment and state services in general.
As a businessman who helms a business association that can bring Dutch investors to Serbia, what do you consider the biggest advantages of investing in our country?
Serbia offers a lot of opportunities and I really mean that. Every way you look, more can be done for domestic and foreign investors. Due to the pandemic, many supply chains have been disrupted and big European companies are now trying to find alternatives for their suppliers from the Far East. Serbia has a great geographical location, highly skilled workforce and people who are adaptable and easily trained to learn any new skill, so I think that a really big opportunity lies in that.
Many investors find it interesting that goods originating from Serbia and exported to the EU customs area are subject to preferential customs regimes. Serbia has been a party in the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) and has concluded bilateral free-trade agreements with the Russian Federation, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Turkey and the European Free Trade Association (Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, and Liechtenstein). The country is also a beneficiary of Japan’s GSP (preferential duties on importation to Japan), while the U.S. government designated Serbia as a beneficiary of the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), providing duty-free access to the U.S. market in various eligible categories.
We think that more Serbian companies could enter the Dutch market
To what extent does the association cooperate with institutions and organizations and are you satisfied with that cooperation?
2020 was supposed to be the year when we would hold an official presentation of the DSBA to the government institutions. However, due to the pandemic, that was not feasible, so we hope that we would be able to do that in the second half of this year. We think that cooperation and exchange of the know-how between the DSBA and government institutions will be beneficial to both sides.
Regarding other bilateral organizations, we have already established relations with most of them and that part functions well. Exchange of the experiences and knowledge that our members have is highly important and beneficial, so we hope that in the rest of the year, we will have an opportunity to again see each other in person and organize more live events.
Is there room for improving the existing cooperation and if there is, in which sectors? What can the Dutch learn from us and vice versa?
There is room for improvement in just about everything, as well as in the Dutch-Serbian cooperation. We think that more Serbian companies could enter the Dutch market and offer their products there. To that end, we already spoke with the Serbian ambassador to The Netherlands, H.E. Mrs. Ksenija Milenković about that. We also think that more Dutch companies could be informed about all the possibilities that Serbia has to offer and we will also actively work on that in the future. We think that the existence of the DSBA will send out a good signal for more Dutch companies to come and invest in Serbia.
We can learn from Dutch a lot about the business, innovation and how things should be done in a structured way. On the other hand, the Dutch can learn from us a lot about adaptation, resourcefulness and improvisation.
What activities of the Dutch-Serbian Business Association would you like to single out this year?
This year, we will have the opportunity to see each other again in person after some time, since we plan to host a Benelux networking cocktail reception on 24th June with our colleagues from the Belgian-Serbian Business Association. We hope that the rest of the year will allow us to have more networking events, but also that we will have the opportunity to organize educational events for our members. Also, as I have mentioned before, this year, we will hopefully meet with relevant government institutions, introduce the DSBA to them and launch a fruitful cooperation with them.