If we talk about 2021, not knowing what the impact of the new wave will lead to, we will continue the work with and service to our members to the maximum, online, direct contacts and hopefully by mid of next year in a live event
This year should have been a celebration year, 10 years of The Belgian Serbian Business Association, BSBA, which president since its establishment is mr. Hugo van Veghel. With Mr. Veghel we spoke about the impact of a pandemic on the economy, Belgium companies in Serbia and the result of the survey, visit of a young and dynamic team from Belgium as well as about plans for 2021.
This year was very difficult for Serbia and the whole Europe. What impact did this whole situation have on the economy?
Let’s not reiterate too much on what is written, said or broadcasted on the economic impact of this pandemic. For sure we haven’t seen everything yet. In a short survey among our members, we noted that they are aware of it and prepare for worse as the majority already indicated a negative impact on their turnover. And this new assertiveness leads to the “positive” side of the situation; innovation is mainly the result of an action induced by problems and certainly conflicts. Our companies have indicated changes in marketing strategies and the development of new, customised products, innovations, wherever possible. Unfortunately, a less favourable position was noted in those in the mining sector.
“Despite the difficult circumstances we had in September a visiting party from the Belgian fashion and garment sector”
Is there any changes in a number of Belgium companies operating in Serbia?
At this moment we have a status quo. Despite the difficult circumstances we had in September a visiting party from the Belgian fashion and garment sector. A young dynamic team developed a new product for which they found a Serbian company to deliver a prototype. The team returned with the satisfaction of the work, dialogue with and the attitude of the potential partner. The aim is long-term cooperation between the development and production units.
What does our economic cooperation look like after the whole situation with the coronavirus?
Maybe it is still not so bad as many might think. Our survey showed that several companies started sourcing from new suppliers, local suppliers. One of the main concerns of companies is cash flow. Sourcing from the local market instead of the international market is one of the measures that seems to be applied more than before.
Serbian government helped companies to overcome the crisis. What do you think about economic measures?
All our members that participated in the survey, with exception of one, used the support measures from the government. Those who did were all using the minimum-wage -support. The moratorium was considered useful by 80% and was welcomed as a tool to increase the cash flow. The same 80% would like to see some financial programmes like low interest credit lines or credit guarantees. The same group sees benefit in the reduction of tariff on imported inputs, tax waivers or temporary tax breaks. Less in demand, but not least important are possible employment programmes (e.g. temporary employment programs or social security waivers).
Do you have any info or data about how Belgium companies in Serbia are affected by the crisis?
From our recent survey, we saw that 80% is moderately or strongly affected and saw revenues or sales slightly or significantly down. No surprise that 50% of all respondents has affected investment plans.
As one of our members underlined; “we cannot anticipate the future situation, but we can make ourselves more flexible, what we did with respect to keep the quality of our services on high level”. We know that 80% applied the remote work modus and 50% increased marketing efforts, customised or developed new products.
Worth mentioning is that all of the responding companies were holding on to all staff without a reduction in operational hours, shifts or wages.
What will be priorities of BSBA in 2021?
This year should have been a celebration year, 10 years BSBA, which I proudly preside since its establishment. We are a voluntary association which is able to serve its members due to committed voluntary board members, representatives of members but also our Ambassadors, Heads and staffs of the Economic and Trade Office. Also, the BSBA developed its flexibility, seminars were transformed in online events; cooperation with other business clubs or chambers of commerce was very successful in this respect, all driven by a dynamic executive director. Even our board meetings went mainly online. So, if we talk about 2021, not knowing what the impact of the new wave will lead to, we will continue the work with and service to our members to the maximum, online, direct contacts and hopefully by mid of next year in a live event.
To this end, we underline the use of safety measures, the attitude of respect for each and everyone, and unity in this unfair battle. The Belgian moto is not in vain “UNITY MAKES STRENGTH “.