Economy Minister Goran Knežević: Growing cooperation to mutual satisfaction

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The political and economic relations between Slovenia and Serbia are getting increasingly better and I do hope that this year’s trading between the two countries will follow suit and grow to a billion Euros, as well as that investors would maintain their interest for  investing here. I would also like to see more Serbian companies doing business in Slovenia.

 There is nothing that excites me more than when existing investors in our country re-invest and expand their operations as did Slovennian companies Mercator, Impol Eval, Gorenje and many others – says Economy Minister, Goran Knežević in an interview for Diplomacy&Commerce.

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“This is the best proof of a stable and predictable business environment and progress we made in economic reforms”, the Minister adds. He also talks about his plans for Serbian industry achieving higher technological progress and the continuation of the EU accession process, namely the negotiations about the chapter 20 which covers industrial policy, SMEs and entrepreneurship.

How would you rate the overall economic relations with Slovenia?

The political relations between our two countries are getting increasingly better and the same can be said for the economic ones too. We can see this from the fact that Slovenia is one of the top 10 countries that Serbia exports to. The same applies to import too. Considering that last year’s value of the trade between our two countries stood at 870 million EUR, we do hope that this year that amount would reach a billion EUR. Large Slovenian companies like Mercator, Impol Seval, Gorenje and many others have expanded their business here. It is thrilling to see when existing investors re-invest or expand their operations in our country. This is the best possible evidence of the stable and predictable environment for doing business and a result of economic reforms.

What can the two countries do institutionally-wise to facilitate the flow of goods, capital and labour and contribute to an even better cooperation?

 The cooperation between our country and Slovenia is exceptionally important for the entire Southeast Europe. The visits of the state and business delegations have become very frequent, and, as a result, we now have the Mixed Economic Cooperation Committee which goal is to further boost the trade between the two countries and facilitate new investments, as well as to find the way to overcome current challenges. I would like to see more Serbian companies doing business in Slovenia, and follow in the footsteps of ComTrade, Nectar, MK Group and others. Also, it is exceptionally important for us to continue developoing the quality infrastructure system in order to make our companies more competitive in the EU and for them to produce safer and better quality products. Finally, all of this should result in a higher export and better competitiveness. We need to establish a link between science and business because that is the only way for our economies to catch up to technological and scientific progress. We are all very aware of the importance of joint access to third markets and pooling our resources in order to fulfill the strict requirements of the European and global markets.

How important are Slovenian investments for the Serbian production sector, particularly in the light of Serbia’s re-industrialisation plans?

All investments, Slovenian included, bring new technology and know-how with them and this is what we should base our further development on. In the process of negotiating the Chapter 20, which covers industrial policy, SMEs and entrepreneurship, we have to harmonize our approach to development of these areas with the latest trends, principles and the best practice cases in the EU. Thanks to the support from the World Bank, we have started reviewing the existing Strategy for Industrial Development.

Do you think that the benefits of Serbia’s free trade agreement with Russia, Turkey and other countries have been fully utilized in the economic cooperation between the two countries?

Both countries need to use all available opportunities for development of economic cooperation, especially when we bear in mind the good strategic position of Serbia and Slovenia. For our country, Slovenia is a ticket to the EU while for Slovenia, Serbia is a stepping stone towards third markets because Serbia has custom-free trade agreements with the countries with over 1 billion consumers. We have signed free trade agreements with the U.S., the EU, Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Turkey and the CEFTA and EFTA countries.

How open is Slovenia today to Serbian investments and what are the experiences of the Serbian business people there following some positive investment examples from last year?

There is room for Serbian companies with substantial investment potential to expand their business to Slovenia too. We believe that frequent meetings between state officials and business people, and a stronger cooperation between chambers of commerce from the two countries will contribute to the better exchange of information and experiences so that our products and services can be accessible to Slovenians and, by the same token, to other EU countries.

Which measures that your Ministry implements are considered important for boosting foreign investments and improving the business climate?

It is important that we continue with incentives policy. We also need new capital, new know-how and new technology. We consider every new job created as success for us. At the same time, we consider our efforts on countering shadow economy as exceptionally important which is the reason why we declared 2017 and 2018 as the years of combating shadow economy. As one of the measures on reducing the administrative and tax burdens on businesses, we have been diligently working on making an inventory of all tax and non-tax levies, as well as all procedures with the aim of having a systemic approach to reducing red tape for businesses in this country.  The joint effort of the entire government has crucial importance in all of this.

How much of Slovenia’s assistance in developing tourism industry did Serbia actually use and how much potential there is for further development in this segment?

As I said earlier, it is important that we remain open to new know-how.  It is very valuable when this know-how comes from Slovenia, a country that we have had an excellent cooperation with. We do expect investments to happen, as well as for the Slovenian side to help us with developing tourism industry, especially the spa segment.

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