Trading and Investing – Italy strengthens the economic partnership and promotes Serbia on the European path
For Belgrade, the start of the negotiations with the EU was a historic step towards European integration. Carlo Lo Cascio the Italian ambassador to Serbia, gives us a close intake on his observations of Serbian political developments and on the relations with Italy, a founding Member State of the EU.
How does Serbia look to you today compared to the time of your previous diplomatic engagement in Belgrade?
— I left Serbia in 2008, but I have continued to follow the main political and economic issues of the Balkan region also from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Rome, as Director for the Balkans and later as Principal Director for European countries. Over the last few years, therefore, I have been able to observe closely the developments on the path towards the European Union, since the formal start of Serbia’s accession negotiations in 2014, and to see the significant progress made by Serbia. There is, of course, still much to be done – and our Serbian friends know this – but the direction is the right one. There is another very important thing: Serbia has become a factor of stability for the Western Balkans. Economic integration with the other candidate countries, the settlement of regional disputes, the management of migratory flows, the fight against radicalisation and terrorism are all challenges that cannot be met without the fundamental contribution of Serbia. I am sure that there is full awareness today on the part of the Serbian authorities of the key role that Belgradecan play in the region, including in the light of the constructive approach recently demonstrated on several occasions.
At the beginning of your term in the office, you said that, inthe coming months, you expected the accession negotiationsbetween Serbia and the European Union to bring our two countries even closer together. What issues relating to the European integration of Serbia will be in focus of Italian support?
— Italy has decided to make a major investment in Serbia, both inpolitical and economic terms, at a time when others were reluctant to do so. We were among the first, if not the first, to talk about Serbia’s European perspective, when nobody dared to do so. We are pleased to see today that we were right, because it is clear to everyone that the future of Serbia is within the European Union. As a founding member and traditionally pro-European country we see Serbia’s accession to the EU as a matter of priority. We firmly believe that Serbia’s prosperity contributes to our prosperity and that stability in the Balkans guarantees our stability. These are the reasons why Italy has never failed to give its full support to the negotiations under way in Brussels, always expressing its support for the opening of new chapters. Similarly, we have provided technical support, thanks to the work of Italian experts, engaged in European projects in Serbia in many sectors, from the fight against corruption to agriculture, from health to free competition. Italy stands by Serbia also from an economic point of view, thanks to the investments of Italian companies in the country. As a matter of fact, Italy, besides being the first foreign investor in Serbia, is also the second commercial partner and the first importing country of Serbian products.
How can Serbia’s faster accession to the EU deepen the existing
bilateral relations between our two countries?
— The accession process is bringing Serbia closer to Italy, which is clear if we bear in mind that the opening of each new negotiation chapter implies the harmonisation of Serbian legislation with European legislation. Thanks to the numerous and important reforms that Serbia has partly launched and that it will continue to implement, it will be easier for Serbian companies to trade with Italian companies, Serbian students will be able to go more freely to Italy, the transport and telecommunications network of the Balkans will be expanded and connected to that of the EU countries. Negotiations with Brussels should not be seen as a mere bureaucratic process, but as a unique opportunity for reforms, the results of which will primarily benefit Serbian citizens. Italy will therefore continue to support Serbia in all those areas in which it is good to continue the excellent work already undertaken: in the area of the rule of law, in the media and in the privatisation.
Which economic segments have the biggest potential for further increase in the external trade between our countries?
— First of all, I would like to point out that the trade exchange between Serbia and Italy is constantly growing. We have to be very optimistic, therefore, about strengthening our economic partnership. Italy had an exchange of 3.9 billion euros with Serbia in 2017. The growth prospects of our economies, in particular the Serbian economy, which may see GDP growth rates exceeding three percentage points, show that the trend will continue to be positive. The objective we have set for this year is to reach, and if possible exceed, 4 billion euros. This will be possible thanks to the increased trade in traditional sectors such as automotive, machinery andtextiles, however, to target higher growth margins it is necessary to look at sectors which still have unexpressed potential for developmentin Serbia. I refer in particular to new technologies and digitalisation, which have been identified as a priority by the Serbian Government, but also to agribusiness and organic products or the green economy. In order to promote cooperation between Serbian and Italian companies, the Italian Embassy, along with the Foreign Trade Agency, the Italian-Serbian Chamber of Commerce and Confindustria Serbia – which together represent ’’Sistema Italia’’ – organizes a series of promotional events during the year. In May, forexample, Italy participated with 20 companies at the International Agriculture Fair of Novi Sad, while a very successful entrepreneurial mission in the infrastructure sector took place in Belgrade. The fifth edition of the meeting of the ‘Italian-Serbian Collaboration Platform in Advanced Manufacturing Systems and Technologies’,which brings together prestigious Italian and Serbian bodies from the world of research and industry active in the field of automation and mechatronics, will take place in June.
What can Italy offer to Serbia in terms of management and promotion of cultural heritage?
— I said earlier that Serbia’s future is within Europe, but the same can be said of its past. There are 17 Roman emperors born in Serbia, and on its territory there are numerous archaeological sites from the classical period. In addition, after years of closure, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the National Museum have been reopened with masterpieces by great European artists. The conservation of theartistic and historical heritage is a fundamental aspect of the management and appreciation of cultural heritage, with respect to which Italy has a profound experience, which it has always shared with friendly countries. Last year, for example, a meeting was organised by the Italian Cultural Institute, with the support of the Serbian Embassy and the Serbian Ministry of Culture, in Belgrade entitled ‘A bridge for cultural heritage’, in which managers and experts from some of the most important Italian museums took part. The aim of the conference was to demonstrate that the management of cultural heritage can become a valuable resource for tourism and local development. In March this year, on the other hand, an exhibition was held in Aquileia (in the province of Udine) entitled ‘Treasures and Emperors – Splendour of Roman Serbia’ with sixty-two artefacts coming from the National Museum of Belgrade, the National Museum of Zaječar and Niš and the Museums of Požarevac, Novi Sad, Sremska Mitrovica and Negotin. Italy is a cultural ‘superpower’, just because it has been able to fully take advantage of its incredible artistic treasures as an instrument of soft power. I am sure that sharing our good practices can make a decisive