H.E. CARLO LO CASCIO, Italian Ambassador to Serbia: ITALY&SERBIA: A EUROPEAN PARTNERSHIP FOR THE FUTURE

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Next year Italy and Serbia will celebrate 140 years of diplomatic relations and 10 years of strategic partnership. It is
another step in the history of the Italian Serbian friendship and the basis on which we will continue to closely work together to pursue our common interests. In this positive framework we can also count on the support of Confindustria Serbia, that in the last six years helped us to form a cohesive and dynamic Italian business community, while creating a stronger bond among our companies and Serbian ones. We can proudly say that Confindustria is an
open association of local and international businesses that are ready to work together

There is a high probability that the bilateral trade between Italy and Serbia will hit four billion euros this year. What does this imply in terms of economic relations?

— First and foremost, the four billion euros bilateral exchange figure represents the constant growth of trade between Italy and Serbia. Reaching this target, even if it is a record number, it is not a goal per se. What must be really celebrated is the positive trend that we have experienced in recent years. This same trend is already taking shape this year, in the first eight months of 2018 the Italian export has increased by more than 8%. Italian and Serbian economies are getting closer and closer. I am confident that this phase will continue in the medium term. One of the direct consequences of the increasing bilateral exchange will be the gradual integration of our economies in the framework of the European Single Market. This will guarantee a future of common growth, in the interest of both our Countries. Entering a 500 million people market will unveil the real potential of the Serbian economy
and multiply the opportunities for Serbian companies.

How in turn these figures are influencing the political dialogue?

— Economic cooperation is one of the pillars of our bilateral relations with Serbia, but it is far from being the only one. There is no doubt that the trade exchange and the daily work of the Italian companies already present in Serbia have an incredibly positive impact on our relations. But I often like to stress the fact that Italy invested in Serbia many years ago, in a difficult moment and well before other Countries. This was also a clear political choice. Our policy towards Serbia has always been one of support and we constantly put forward the European perspective. We built mutual trust, that is why we can proudly say the we enjoy excellent political relations. Next year we will celebrate 140 years of diplomatic relations and 10 years of strategic partnership. It is another step in the history of the Italian Serbian friendship and the basis on which we will continue to closely work together to pursue our common interests. Even before the end of this year we will have important visits and initiatives: in the month of October our Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Defence are coming to Belgrade, while a summit of the Ministries of Interior of the Western Balkans will be hosted in the beautiful Italian city of Brindisi.

What did the establishment of Confindustria Serbia six years ago bring into economic cooperation? Do you perceive the Italian spirit in the Serbian business culture?

— The creation of the Serbian delegation of Confindustria was a very forward-looking decision, that immediately
obtained institutional support. Confindustria is not only the largest, and for many aspects the most important,
business organisation in Italy, but it is also an iconic and fundamental actor of our economy. The “General Confederation of the Italian industry” – as it is officially called – was funded in 1910 and for more than a century it played a central role in the national effort that brought Italy to where it is now: a G7 member, the third largest economy in the Eurozone and the eighth largest exporter in the world. We are extremely lucky to have Confindustria represented in Serbia for many other reasons: first of all, it helped to form a cohesive and dynamic Italian business community. Hundreds of Italian companies know that they can promote their interests in an effective and transparent manner through this organisation. Secondly Confindustria is creating a stronger bond among our companies and Serbian ones, because it is not a closed Italian club, but rather an open association of local and international businesses that are ready to work together. Finally, and I answer your question, because it brought a positive attitude and an insight of the Italian way of doing business, that it is very much appreciated here in Serbia.

What in your opinion is the future of the EU led Western Balkans Process?

— First of all, I want to highlight that the Trieste Summit held in Italy last year was instrumental, and maybe even essential, in bringing back into the Agenda the EU accession perspective for the Western Balkan Countries. The Italian Chairmanship was praised for its work and for bringing together all the States of the region. I am particularly proud of the fact that since last year Trieste is also hosting the WB6 Permanent Secretariat of the Chamber Investment Forum, a representation of the Chambers of Commerce of the Western Balkan Countries, that has been established under the Italian auspices, with the generous support of the Chamber of Commerce of Venezia Giulia. The Secretariat acts as a key contact, information and development point for all activities, projects and initiatives within the Berlin Process with a developmental dimension for the economies of the Western Balkans region. It is now paramount that Poland, but really the EU as whole, continues to support Serbia and the Countries of the region in their path towards European integration. I frankly do not see any possible alternative to that.

From the point of view of the Italian business interest what does a more integrated Western Balkan region mean?

— Let me give you a concrete example: there are less trade and administrative barriers between Italy and Finland than between Serbia and Macedonia, that are two neighbouring Countries. Does this make any sense? It is in the full interest of everybody, not only Italian business, to have an open market where goods can move freely. Some weeks ago, at a public event organised by “The Economist” in Belgrade, it was mentioned that iconic food brands sold in former Yugoslavia during the 70’s and 80’s are still among the most appreciated goods by the consumers of the Western Balkan region. This is the demonstration that the common market is already a reality in the behaviour of the economic operators, that trade, buy and sell the same goods in different Countries. It is now the duty of the Governments, together with the support of all the EU Member States, to follow through with legislative reforms aimed at taking down the existing barriers. Much has already been done, but it is necessary to continue with a deeper
regional economic integration.

What do you see as the most pressing questions for the Western Balkan Countries, and Serbia in particular, in terms of integration in the EU market?

— Many matters must be tackled, but of course it is necessary to set priorities. I would therefore put forward the most significant issues on the economic side: the connectivity agenda, private sector development, fight against corruption. Those are only a few dossiers, but them alone require a particular effort in terms of reforms and implementation. First of all, connecting the region means investing in infrastructures both for transport and energy. I think that the EU is playing a significant role in this sense, thanks also to the financial support of our multilateral
banks. We certainly have to consider different global players in this field, but I do believe that the European
approach is much more sustainable in terms of long-term goals, quality of the works and transparency. As regards the private sector development, Serbia and the neighbouring countries have the need to create a fertile environment for SMEs. The increase in numbers of small sized companies will boost growth, reduce unemployment and help the development of an entrepreneurial spirit. Confindustria is well aware of that and is already sharing the Italian SMEs culture and know-how with our Serbian partners. No need to say that a good business environment cannot exist
without a corruption free public administration. That is why Italy is closely working with the Serbian Government
in tackling this issue, particularly through an EU finded twinning project implemented with our Anticorruption Agencies.

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