Goran Križ, Economic Advisor at the Slovenian Embassy: Reforms are important signal to business people and investors

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The official visit of the Slovenian President, Borut Pahor in January next year and the economic gathering that will be held on that occasion will create opportunities for setting the bar even higher in terms of the already excellent Serbian-Slovenian economic cooperation. Digitization and and startups are new segments we can cooperate on.

Slovenia and Serbia have found the key to a successful economic cooperation long time ago; the cooperation that is constantly being upgraded, improved and creates new areas to work together. Slovenian investments are distributed over a number of sectors from the usual manufacturing and processing to financial sector. The two countries have recently added one new area to these standard cooperation areas, in which both have trump cards – digitization and development of start-ups. In an interview for our magazine, Goran Križ, Economic Advisor at the Slovenian Embassy, says that a big business event, prepared by the two governments, chambers of commerce of the two countries and other institutions will be dedicated to the aforementioned segments. The event will take place during the official visit of the President of the Republic of Slovenia, Borut Pahor to Serbia, in late January 2019.

The economic growth in Slovenia and the reform progress in Serbia have created a favourable climate for new investments by Slovenian companies, and to a lesser extent, by Serbian companies in Slovenia.

Not only is the cooperation expanding in terms of the scope the external trade between the two countries and the level of investment, but also thanks to the closer cooperation of the representatives of the Slovenian Embassy and the Slovenian Business Club with local governments in Serbia, the geographical area in which Slovenian companies operate has expanded too. Our interlocutor, Mr. Križ says that he would like that cooperation to be even more intense.

The main message of the Slovenia-Serbia business forum that took place early this year was that the prerequisites for economic cooperation have never been better and that now is that time for a new investment tide. What will be the summary of the results this year, according to you?

The bilateral cooperation between Slovenia and Serbia has reached a very high level in many areas, which is especially true for the economic cooperation. Trading in goods is constantly growing and in 2017, it reached a record value of EUR 1.34 billion. The growth trend in overall trade, services and new investments continued this year too. Positive and stable economic atmosphere in Serbia has encouraged Slovenian businesses to invest here. Additionally, we must not forget the positive trend of the growing Serbian investments in Slovenia, especially in the field of tourism.

Which areas have the new Slovenian investments been focusing on?

As was the case with the existing Slovenian investments in Serbia, they are distributed across many areas, from electronic, automotive, metal processing, energy industry, insurance activities to the food sector. The interest in cooperation is best illustrated by the fact that there are about 1,500 Slovenian companies registered in Serbia, which according to some estimates, employ about 25,000 people. We are particularly pleased with the fact that more than 90% of them are small and medium enterprises.

What opportunities have digitization and emergence of start-ups created?

Digitization and start-ups create a whole spectrum of new opportunities for deepening of the economic cooperation. Both sides have identified digitization and start-ups as priority areas of cooperation. In this context, a major business event is being organized in cooperation with the chambers of commerce and other institutions from the economic segment. The event will take place during the official visit of the President of the Republic of Slovenia, Borut Pahor to Serbia, in late January 2019. In the segment of start-ups, the two countries have established an active cooperation characterized by the exchange of information and good practices, cooperation between technological parks, etc.

Has the progress that Serbia made in reforms changed way how the Slovenian businesses view the future of investing in Serbia?

The progress of the reform process and the harmonization of legislation with the EU standards have definitely opened up new perspectives for investments and had a positive influence on the perception of Slovenian business people and investors. With the implementation of the necessary reforms in the economic area, Serbia has also improved its ranking on the Doing Business List, which consequently sends an important signal to business people and investors.

What are the current obstacles to cooperation and how can we remove them?

The length of certain (legal) proceedings remains a big problem and this causes unease among business people and in a way, deters potential investors. In that respect, we welcome faster reforms in the rule of law.

You often visit local governments in Serbia with the Slovenian Business Club. Do you think that Slovenian companies are now more ready to invest in lesser developed areas in Serbia?

Direct cooperation with local governments is very important in our work of identifying potential Serbian partners and connecting them with Slovenian companies. In the vast majority of cases, local self-governments and economic institutions are responsive and proactive in our joint efforts to improve the economic cooperation. To be honest, I would like to see more visits and contacts with representatives of local self-governments in the field. As far as the Slovenian Business Club is concerned, I have to admit that we have an excellent cooperation and we are pleased to see their membership growing, which includes Serbian companies. This means that they are doing well.

What do Slovenian companies think of the availability of workforce?

Generally speaking, Slovenian companies have positively assessed the availability of workforce in Serbia, which is considered to be well-educated, dilligent and reliable. Due to the relatively high economic growth and, consequently, the increased demand for labour, Slovenia has been facing some of the problems regarding the lack of certain worker profiles for some time now. As a consequence, Slovenian companies are forced to look for deficient worker profiles in the region, particularly in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is very likely that Serbia will soon encounter a similar problem.

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