We can proudly say that our companies, both Italian and Serbian, have developed a mature and solid partnership
“The whole world was put to the test and, unfortunately, Italy was among the first countries in Europe to be affected. However, it must be said that the situation has rapidly improved during the summer and, as of today, Italy is among the least affected countries in the EU”, says in an interview Matthias Claivaz, First Secretary Embassy of Italy in Belgrade. In this interview, he talked about coronavirus pandemic and our economic cooperation.
The pandemic has put Italy to the test. What are the economic consequences and when recovery is predicted?
Of course, the pandemic caused a sudden economic crisis that will badly affect our GDP for 2020. The consequences are also hard to predict because they mainly depend on the evolution of the epidemic. If one choses an optimistic approach, based on the encouraging news on the vaccines and the governments’ tendency to avoid hard lockdowns, the hypothesis of a “V” shaped recession does not seem that unreasonable. It should also be considered that the European Union has adopted an ambitious 750 billion euros Recovery Plan that aims at boosting growth after the crisis. All the Member States will be able to mobilize these financial resources to develop important national projects to relaunch their economies. Serbia and all the Western Balkan countries will continue as well to be beneficiaries of EU aid as already planned by the multiannual financial framework 2021-2027.
“I was impressed by the positive reaction of the Italian companies in Serbia during the hardest months of the epidemic”
How did Italian companies in Serbia survive the crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic?
First of all, I have to say that I was impressed by the positive reaction of the Italian companies in Serbia during the hardest months of the epidemic. I was personally in touch with many managers, from big firms to SMEs. The vast majority of them was worried about two things: the security of their employees and the expansion of their activities in Serbia. This is also what emerged from the regular on-line meetings organized by the Italian Embassy with the wider business community. Secondly, the economic package adopted by the Serbian Government last spring and the subsequent direct financial aid for private businesses has been extremely useful for all the Italian companies. Thirdly, we could also count on two very solid Italian banks, Banca Intesa and Unicredit, that successfully operate in Serbia and were not only able to implement the credit moratorium introduced by the National Bank of Serbia but also continued to support companies with new credit lines.
Do you believe that the pandemic has reduced or increased the interest of companies and businesspeople for Serbia?
The interest for Serbia has never diminished. Of course, many initiatives and projects have been delayed, since it was almost impossible to travel and gatherings, such as fairs, were not allowed. That did not change one specific aspect: Italian companies know very well that their recovery depends on the ability to internationalize their presence abroad, through exports but also thanks to the opening of new branches in strategic locations. Serbia remains a very attractive destination for foreign direct investments coming from Italy, for many reasons: historical ties, geographical proximity, access to eastern markets. It is not by chance if Italy is still one of the main foreign investors in Serbia. I am also pleased to observe that there is a growing interest coming from Serbian companies that wish to invest and export to Italy. Last year, the Italian Foreign Trade Agency ICE supported many Serbian businesses, promoting their presence at International Fairs in Italy. We can proudly say that our companies, both Italian and Serbian, have developed a mature and solid partnership.
“In the first 7 months of 2020, we already reached 1,8 billion euros of bilateral trade”
What are the projections of what will be the value of foreign trade between Italy and Serbia at the end of the year, given the situation?
In the first 7 months of 2020, we already reached 1,8 billion euros of bilateral trade. This figure is slightly lower than the one registered last year, but considering the impact of the epidemic on the European economy we can be more than satisfied with the level our bilateral trade. We should now focus on the recovery in the second part of the year, in order to get as closer as possible to the numbers we are used to see. In 2018 we reached the impressive figure of 4 billion euros trade between Italy and Serbia. I am certain that it was not an isolated case, but a phase in the growing trend of our exchanges. Let us not forget that apart from governmental initiatives to reinforce our bilateral ties, it is the will of many companies in Italy and Serbia to find closer collaboration among themselves. We should therefore try to accompany and support the private sector in forging strong partnerships in both our countries. That is why we have never stopped organizing B2B events, even when the borders were closed we chose to continue our action on-line. Our hope is of course to host again physical events in the very near future.
Can you tell us how production and services, two complementary sectors for the Italian companies in Serbia, went through the COVID19 crisis?
The Italian economic presence in Serbia is very diverse. Manufacturing used to be the sector in which our companies were concentrated, in the past 20 years, however, thanks to the evolution of the Serbian market, the service sector developed very rapidly and many Italian businesses opened their branches in this country. We now have a vast network and Italian-Serbian companies can count on each other’s support. That is what helped our businesses in the most complex phase of the current epidemic: manufacturing companies continued their production because they built a solid relationship with banks, insurances, law firms and HR consultancies. They could also count on the Embassy’s support and the great work of the Italian-Serbian Chamber of Commerce, Confindustria Serbia and the Italian Foreign Trade Agency. Moreover, the Serbian economy has proved extremely resilient compared to other economies in the region and the general perspectives for its growth remain positive. In this context, I am sure that Italian companies will continue to thrive.