MATTHIAS CLAIVAZ First Secretary, Head of Economic, Trade and Scientific Cooperation Unit, Embassy of Italy in Belgrade: SKY’S THE LIMIT FOR OUR RELATIONSHIP

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Both Italy and Serbia have a large number of SMEs, that represent the core of our economies

Matthias Claivaz, First Secretary Embassy of Italy in Belgrade, talked about potentials in agriculture, our economic cooperation and the International Agricultural Fair in Novi Sad.

Italy is the Partner Country of the International Agricultural Fair in Novi Sad. How satisfied are you with the organizations? Has the Fair met your expectations and those of the Italian exhibitors?

– The Agricultural Fair in Novi Sad was a success, not only for our exhibitors but also for the Serbian and regional agricultural sector in general. I want to congratulate all the people involved for their incredible job. As regards the Italian participation, our presence was indeed remarkable, thanks to the excellent organization of our Foreign Trade Agency – ICE. We were there with 30 exhibitors, in a national pavilion of over 400 square meters. The presence of the representatives of Veneto Region and of Verona’s Fair (famous for VinItaly) was also very significant. Italy’s role as a Partner Country was enriched by the organization four seminars: the opening one on innovative technologies in agriculture; the second on circular economy (together with the Italian National Research Council – CNR); the third on the cultivation of  hazelnuts (by Agriser/Ferrero) and finally one presentation by Unacoma, the Italian association of agricultural machinery manufacturers. Unacoma presented to the Serbian businessmen the Italian Fair “Agrilevante”, the most important event dedicated to agricultural machines and technologies in the entire Mediterranean basin, that will be held in Bari in October.

 
Did the exhibitors from Italy have concrete results? What would you consider to be particularly significant?

– Both the Italian Ministry of Agriculture, represented in Novi Sad by the Undersecretary of State for Agriculture, Mr. Franco Manzato, and all the Italian companies were very satisfied at the end of the Fair. It should not come as a surprise, since there were more than 1500 exhibitors and 140,000 visitors!  After only a few weeks, we are already receiving the first positive feedbacks. An Italian company just found a distributor for the Balkan region and many others confirmed their participation for next year. We are especially pleased by the fact that two important Italian fairs like Verona’s and Bari’s were promoted in Novi Sad. The goal is to encourage the participation of Serbian producers and farmers to Italian events. We want to reach a mature partnership and balanced trade flows and we can only do that if we encourage our businessmen to meet in Italy and Serbia.

 
The value of foreign trade between Italy and Serbia is 4 billion euros. Is this close to the estimated maximum, given the volume of investments and the size of the Italian investment companies, or has it more potential to expand the scope of work of companies that are already present on the market?

– The sky is the limit. The Serbian economy will grow this year and the next one at a very good rate. Perhaps the European economy will slow down a bit, but in general there is plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Many important economic sectors are being developed in Serbia and Italy will certainly contribute in terms of investments, goods and technology. In 2018 many Italian companies invested in the manufacturing sector and continue to do so in the first semester of 2019, opening new factories or expanding their production. Moreover, we hope to improve the result of our bilateral trade in the agricultural sector, in 2018 Serbian agricultural exports to Italy grew by 27%, while Italian exports to Serbia increased by 4%. Speaking of the agribusiness, I believe that, also thanks to the available IPARD II funds, more Serbian companies will have the chance to buy our state of the art agricultural technologies. Italy is famous for having small and medium producers also in agriculture, therefore we developed machineries that suit well for the Serbian market.

 
You recently had a meeting with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia. What is your cooperation with them? What was agreed at that meeting?

– We have always had great cooperation with the PKS, thanks also to the work of the other components of the so-called ’’Sistema Italia’’ in Serbia (Italian Foreign Trade Agency, Italian Serbian Chamber of Commerce and Confindustria Serbia). We recently hosted ad the Italian Embassy, with more than 70 companies, an informal meeting with the President of PKS, Mr. Marko Čadež. We agreed on enhancing even more our bilateral cooperation, through the co-organization of business-related events, such as B2Bs, Country presentations and sectoral missions from and to Italy. Serbian and Italian companies can also count on the Office of PKS in Trieste, which is constantly working to promote bilateral projects.

 
What was the establishment of Confindustria Serbia six years ago in economic cooperation? Do you feel the Italian spirit in Serbian business culture?

– Confindustria Serbia, together with the Italian-Serbian Chamber of Commerce and the Italian Foreign Trade Agency (ICE), are very important components of the Italian presence in Serbia, since they give direct support to Italian investors in Serbia, but also to Serbian companies that wish to work with Italian partners. I do believe that the Italian entrepreneurial spirit is very much appreciated here in Serbia, because our businessmen have shown the capacity to integrate the Serbian market also on the cultural level.
That is why the Italian Embassy, together with Confindustria Serbia and many private companies, is working hard to foster the collaboration with schools and universities, by allowing many Serbian students to get trained in our companies, in different cities of Serbia.

 

What does an integrated Western Balkans region mean for Italian businesses?

– It means a lot: first of all common growth, then no artificial trade barriers and more transparency. The European single market represents – still today – the perfect example of how economic integration brings positive results to all, producers and consumers alike. Only a free and open European market can guarantee growth opportunities for our SMEs. Both Italy and Serbia have a large number of SMEs, that represent the core of our economies. These realities cannot cope with too much bureaucracy and should be given the means to reach as many partners and consumers as possible. Big multinational companies will always find a way to invest and export, but our national economies cannot rely only on them.That is why Italy strongly supports, also through EIB financial instruments, new measures to reinforce SME’s contribution to the creation of a solid economic framework in the Balkan region.

 

What do Italian companies think of Serbia’s EU path?

– Italy enjoys a strong presence in South-eastern Europe, being for the many Balkan States the first or the second trading partner. Therefore, Italian companies already look at Serbia and the neighbouring countries as a welcoming and ideal place to do business. In this regard, Serbia is already seen as a European market. It is only natural that the accession process continues, in order to formalize something that on the business level is already taking place. More specifically, there is no doubt that the harmonization of the Serbian legislation to the EU rules-based framework will lead to the opening of the market and provide more transparency for the business environment. European integration means also infrastructural integration that can improve connections and transports. Finally, when Serbia will be a full Member State, it will have access to the structural funds that can boost further growth and important public investments. All that highlights how much EU accession can be an opportunity also for Serbian and Italian companies.

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