Hugo van Veghel, President of the Belgian-Serbian Business Association (BSBA): Growing interest in Serbia

Since its inception, the Belgian business community in Serbia has doubled, but this is just one of many signs pointing to the growing interest of investors in the Serbian economy. Positive trends are very well noticed both here and abroad.

van heghel

The Belgian-Serbian Business Association (BSBA) is satisfied with the trend of cooperation with Serbian state bodies and organisations that deal with economic issues, and welcomes positive trends in reducing red tape and easing investments. Hugo van Veghel, President of the BSBA, also emphasises the human factor and recognises the role of businesses in educating the workforce.

How big is the Belgian business community in Serbia today compared to the time when the BSBA was founded?

If we measure this in terms of the number BSBA members, then we can say that it has doubled. However, we have to point out that here we consider only paying members, while should not neglect another indicator: the 735 Serbian and international businesses and individuals that are registered in the BSBA discussion group on social media (LinkedIn).

What are the most important topics for BSBA members regarding their operations in Serbia?

One of our goals is to support the development of the SME sector. It is the one with less financial power, but one which can be strong in terms of innovation. In business development and investments, predictability remains key. The positive trends are very well noticed here and abroad and contribute initially to curiosity among foreign investors and leads, after in-country visits, to more confidence. We also see positive movement in dealing with red tape issues. The BSBA is one of the co-initiators of the European Initiative (EI), a working group of European bilateral chambers and business associations in Serbia. Together we have joined forces with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia (CCIS), AmCham and the FIC in the Council of Mixed Chambers (CMC) in the CCIS. All together, we want to be the voice of the SMEs that are working or seeking to work in, or with, Serbia.

Are you satisfied with the cooperation between the BSBA and the Serbian state bodies and organisations that deal with economic issues?

We have come a long way. FIC, SAM, NALED, chambers and business associations have all been lobbying and advocating for a better business environment. The BSBA, as a member of EI and CMC, is joining in their efforts focused on SME issues and not without results. The governmental administrations also see opportunities in the working sessions with the CMC to get closer to businesses in the field. We have experienced that these sessions are not “Talk Boxes”, but rather genuine workings sessions in which the governmental side is also involved intensively, with the aim of improving the business environment in Serbia.

From the standpoint of Belgian companies in Serbia, what are Serbia’s key advantages as a business destination, and what should be done to further improve the conditions for doing business here?

You might not expect me to say so, but – and this might be a more personal opinion – one of the key advantages is the human factor. Foreign visitors are impressed by the Serbian character, openness, warm hospitality and, first and foremost, willingness to work. And all of us know that we have to give the workforce the opportunity to improve its skills, both technical and linguistic. There are different projects and programmes in Serbia and the wider region that are working on dual education, with support from the Austrians, Swiss and other internationals. Reducing red tape and facilitating investments is important indeed, but you must also be able to deliver an adequate workforce. This is not only a task of employment offices and the educational and vocational education sector, but also of the existing businesses themselves, in partnership with the latter.

In which way does the BSBA cooperate with other domestic and foreign business associations and organisations in Serbia?

Although we consider ourselves as being small, we have taken our place in different cooperation frameworks. The European Initiative is the framework in which we cooperate with other European mixed chambers and business clubs, both big and small; cooperation with the CCIS is one of excellent mutual understanding and support, while in combination with the previous, the BSBA is also founding and active member of the Council of Mixed Chambers within the CCIS.

Which of the BSBA’s upcoming activities would you like to highlight?

For any business interested in Belgian cooperation opportunities, our first November event is a must. “Doing Business with Belgium” and “Belgian Markets” are the main topics on “Belgium Day”, organised by CCIS and the Belgian Embassy’s Office of the Economic and Commercial Attaché on 23rd November 2016 at the premises of CCIS in Belgrade’s Resavska Street.

Our second activity in November is more restricted in the sense that we will join EI colleagues in organising the “Business Women’s Lunch” on 29th November, which is a great initiative that underlines the importance of women at all levels of business.

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