Marijana Milošević Tufegdžić, Economic and Trade Counsellor at Belgian Embassy: Gradually Expanding Economic Cooperation

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Our main objective is to bring closer the two business communities. We are always seeking new ways of promoting Serbia as an interesting business development destination and constantly looking for new opportunities for cooperation between the two countries. Our office in Serbia represents the three Belgian regional agencies specialized in external trade – the Brussels Business Support Agency ( www.hub.brussels/en/), the Wallonia Foreign Trade and Investment Agency (www.awex.be) and Flanders Investment and Trade (www.flandersinvetsmentnadtrade.com).

What are the major lessons Serbian that can learn from Belgium and businesses when it comes to creating a robust export economy?

– Located in the heart of Europe, Belgium occupies a key position in the European and international economy. In fact, I would say that the internationalization of its economy is crucial to Belgium’s success. Belgium is a trading nation and although its domestic market is relatively small, the country has developed an open, highly-competitive and internationally-oriented economy. The success of the Belgian economy lies in its favourable geographic position, effective logistics and highly developed transport network, as well as skilled, multilingual, and productive workforce. Also, a strong focus is put on supporting scientific research, business R&D and innovation. Belgium’s economy is strongly service-oriented, but it has a number of internationally competitive technology sectors. The most successful exporters are companies from the chemical, food & drinks, biotech, automotive, pharmaceutical, aerospace and plastics sectors. According to the World Trade Organization, Belgium is the 11th largest exporter and 14th largest importer of goods in the world, while Belgian exports amount to nearly 2/3 of the country’s GDP.

Why is the Belgian business community in Serbia relatively small?

The Belgian business community in Serbia is perhaps relatively small, but it is constantly growing. There are around 50 Belgian or Belgium-related companies, currently active in Serbia, present in different sectors. The good news is that the overall external trade between the two countries has been increasing steadily every year, making Serbia more attractive for Belgian business people, so we can say that the economic cooperation between Belgium and Serbia is very good and is gradually expanding.

What the investment and trade trends tell us about the future prospects?

– So far, the Belgian companies have expressed their interest in the Serbian market in terms of investments in different industrial sectors – metal processing, agriculture, food industry, ICT, renewable energy, and real-estate.  Just recently we had two Belgian investments – Elicio NV opened the new Alibunar Wind Farm that consists of 21 wind turbines, an investment worth close to 80 million euro that will supply 38,000 households with electricity, using wind power. In June, the Talent 4 Blinds (T4B) Company, which produces blinds and decorative elements for windows, opened a production facility in Zrenjanin. Currently, the real estate sector and various outsourcing possibilities in different industries remain in the main focus of potential Belgian investors. As almost 99% of Belgian companies are SMEs, we also have a lot of small investors that are interested in entering the Serbian market. There is also a positive trend in the overall external trade between Belgium and Serbia in the last five years which grew around 30%.

In which way is the Embassy engaged in promoting advantages of the Serbian marketplace to Belgian business people?

– Our main goal is to raise the attention of Belgian entrepreneurs towards the advantages of the Serbian market and to highlight various business prospects. Every year, we organize events aimed at bringing closer business communities of the two countries. A delegation of more than 30 Belgian companies from various sectors visited Belgrade in March. During this visit, Belgian business people had B2B meetings with potential Serbian partners and explored potentials of the Serbian market. We are glad to report that some of these meetings resulted in signed contracts. Also, we organize seminars and presentations in order to familiarize Serbian companies with Belgian know-how and new technologies. The three regional agencies that we represent organize every year contact days for Belgian entrepreneurs interested in doing business in Serbia. This allows us to directly promote Serbia as an attractive business destination, while offering useful information on opportunities, potential local partners, legislation, tenders and trade fairs.

Where do you see prospects for the Serbian companies for finding a niche at the Belgian market?

– In 2017, Serbia was the 79th biggest supplier of Belgium, so there is certainly a lot of potential for growth. Serbia’s “red gold” – raspberries – are one of the most exported products from Serbia to Belgium. Belgian market is very demanding, but I am sure there are various other sectors that offer opportunities for cooperation. The Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia has its office in Belgium and plays an important role in supporting Serbian companies in their appearance on the Belgian market.

 

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