Although mutual trade fell by 12-13% compared to 2019, last year’s trade amounted to almost 3.4 billion euro
Italy and Serbia have been having traditionally good economic cooperation and sound geographical knowledge about each other. Italy has been continuously providing support to Serbia on its road to EU membership, and Italian companies are ready to contribute to propelling the Serbian economy. We talked with the President of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia (CCIS), Marko Čadež, about the cooperation between our two countries, especially during the pandemic, as well as the further improvement of bilateral economic relations.
How would you rate the cooperation between Italy and Serbia, especially in the past year since we were all affected by the Covid-19-induced crisis?
Even during the pandemic, Italy remained one of Serbia’s leading economic partners in the world – both in trade and investments. In 2020, Italy was the second biggest external trade partner of Serbia in terms of total trade and the second export market for Serbian products. Despite all the problems that the export of goods from Italy to Serbia and vice versa encountered, even during the three Italian lockdowns in the past year and the state of emergency in Serbia since the beginning of the pandemic, our business people have not stopped cooperating. The Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia, i.e. its Belgrade office, and our representative office in Italy have been providing the biggest possible support in that.
Although mutual trade fell by 12-13% compared to 2019, last year’s trade amounted to almost 3.4 billion euro. Italian companies that were already doing business in Serbia have continued to operate, produce and export, some even expanded their business. For example, Calzedonia has recently opened its sixth factory in Serbia, in Senta, furniture manufacturer Mobil Turi started building a new production hall in Jagodina in the middle of the pandemic, and Tehnostil has decided to increase its capacities by investing in Ruma, in addition to having a production facility in Sremska Mitrovica.
Potential Italian investors, who announced their arrival earlier, are not giving up on the planned investments
It is encouraging to see that even potential Italian investors, who announced their arrival earlier, are not giving up on the planned investments. In 2020, 70 new companies with majority Italian capital were registered in Serbia, and there were several investments realized too including the textile factory I-Novi Tekstili, which operates under the Norman Group, opening its new production facility in Bečej last summer.
Earlier this year, Serbia opened its borders to business people from around the world, allowing them to enter the country with fewer formalities compared to other people, i.e. without having to produce a negative PCR test at the border. Also, the Belgrade-Rome flight was relaunched. I believe the rapid mutual recognition of green vaccination certificates will further facilitate communication and business operations between companies.
Large Italian companies operate in Serbia, as do numerous SMEs. How important is that for boosting the external trade and bilateral cooperation between our two countries?
Apart from large Italian business systems, banks and insurance companies, small and medium-sized Italian family businesses dominate the list of close to 1,250 registered and active companies, founded with the majority Italian capital. These SMEs have been arriving in Serbia together with large companies as their suppliers, both independently and individually. This is in line with the structure of the Italian economy, which is mostly dependent on the SME sector, but is also proof that bilateral economic relations between the two countries have reached maturity, a phase in which not only large but also smaller, export-oriented companies invest.
Although Italy is one of our most important economic partners and the largest investors in Serbia, we are confident that we can make even better use of the potential for cooperation, namely for Serbia to receive quality Italian investments, and for Italian companies to expand their business in Serbia and the region under the auspices of internationalization, which became one of the main pillars for the recovery of the Italian economy in the post-Covid period. By entering the Serbian market, Italian companies open the doors of the entire Western Balkans, buy a ticket for the future common regional market, and thanks to free trade agreements, they have the opportunity to export their products duty-free to a total of 1.4 billion consumers in several markets.
How can we attract even more Italian investors to come to Serbia?
To further adapt the conditions and potential for investing and doing business in Serbia to Italian companies, as well as to establish a stronger model of cooperation and provide joint support for business people together with Italian institutions, the CCIS has been focusing its activities on cooperation with individual regions, which have direct communication with companies and are more interested their companies and entrepreneurs achieving success. We held large gatherings and presentations before the pandemic in five Italian regions – Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Veneto, Lombardia and Campania and Marche. The plan is to boost cooperation with the industrially and agriculturally strong Italian region of Emilia-Romagna. We are grateful to the respective governments of the Italian regions for accepting the initiative, support and cooperation. We are glad that, in the meantime, two of the most developed Italian regions – Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Veneto – have decided to join their capacities in the process of internationalization of their economies and that together with the CCIS and our representative office in Italy, work together on this project that is useful for both the Serbian companies, as well as their business communities.
Serbia offers security and stability, preserved even in the most difficult circumstances during the pandemic
In addition to large companies, it is equally important for us to attract as many Italian SMEs as possible, which will connect with our small and medium-sized companies and enter into joint venture arrangements and various forms of business cooperation for production and export to third markets. We intend to prepare an appropriate package for each of these companies individually and the financial institutions that will accompany them. These will be tailor-made offers for them so that we can be better prepared for their arrival and vice versa.
Along with all other investing advantages, Serbia can offer these companies security and stability, preserved even in the most difficult circumstances during the pandemic which is something that very few investment destinations in the world can boast of, both in the mid- and long-term, as well as better prospects than most comparable economies.
A year ago, an economic, social and cultural development cooperation agreement was signed with the president of the Italian region of Veneto, Luca Zaia. What benefits will Serbian companies have from this and in which segments are Italian companies going to invest the most in Serbia in the coming period?
The signed agreement is another incentive for business people to further solidify the Serbian-Italian economic ties. Veneto-based companies and exporters such as Geox, Benetton and Labor are already operating in Serbia. I believe that, in the future, there will be even more Italian investments and joint projects of our and Italian companies, not only in traditional industries but also in new technologies, innovation, digitalization and creative industries.
In addition to the automotive, metal, textile and furniture and wood processing industries, which have been popular with Italian companies in terms of investing, there is a mutual interest regarding investing in agriculture (food industry), renewable energy and recycling industry, as well as the IT industry. The ICT sector is the fastest-growing sector of the Serbian economy that can offer both our and Italian companies innovative software solutions for improving business and production processes and cooperation on joint projects.
We are working on the promotion and better placement of Serbian products on the Italian market, which is important for our companies because of Italy’s proximity and the fact that it has 60 million consumers
Is there a plan to increase Serbian export to Italy?
Export-oriented Italian investments in themselves bring that benefit to the Serbian economy. As many as 12 of the twenty largest companies that export from Serbia to Italy are Italian companies that have invested in our country, have production here and export from here. Regardless of that, we are working on the promotion and better placement of Serbian products on the Italian market, which is important for our companies because of Italy’s proximity and the fact that it has 60 million consumers.
In previous years, in cooperation with Italian retail chains, we have made significant progress when it comes to the export of Serbian food products that are now sold in Italian stores, despite strong competition from domestic products, which have the proven quality and are recognizable everywhere worldwide. We plan to launch a special website for the Italian market, but also establish a permanent trade fair for Serbian companies in Trieste, that will cover entire Italy and focus on establishing direct contacts between businesses from all sectors, in addition to boosting the quality of cooperation with Italian partners.