Although one cannot argue that the overall bilateral relations have an impact on the state of economic relations between Serbia and Croatia, it is up to the business people from both countries to work on a continuous expansion of cooperation, as it still has a lot of potential to grow. Our interlocutor, Pero Mijakić, President of the Croatian Chamber of Economy in Serbia, underlines the positive results of the external trade in goods between the two countries, but also also the cooperation with colleagues from the Chamber of Commerce of Serbia which he calls „highly professional“. “Business cooperation is always ahead of politics,” says Mr. Mijakić, adding that development of good overall elations in the future should be based on good business relations. This is where the Croatian Chamber of Economy in Serbia sees its role.
“We intend to continue working on creating good conditions and the business climate this year too, in order for the Croatian companies in Serbia to preform even better and achieve better business results, as well as to help create a positive climate for Serbian companies investing in Croatia.“
Also, the Chamber plans to organize more business forums with the participation of business people from both
countries, to improve the presence at specialized trade fairs, and to continue promoting Croatian products in Serbia.
What is your forecast for the Croatian- Serbian business cooperation in the future?
– Economic cooperation will improve in all segments in the coming years. This is a normal course for two neighbouring countries which economies have a similar structure. Business people will certainly know how to use comparative advantages stemming from the connectivity and proximity of the two markets.
What key potentials remain untapped and why is that so?
– Business people should be more closely connected in order to have a joint appearance in large third markets. We are familiar with the advantages of the EU membership, while Serbia has certain favourable bilateral agreements with China and Russia. These are big markets which demand cannot be met by individual countries. For instance, we could better compete in large markets and on large projects by working together in the construction segment. Serbia recorded a major leap in construction in the first six months of 2018 – 25 percent growth – and this is also an opportunity for Croatian companies from that sector. This doesn’t apply only to builders, but also to furniture manufacturers and manufacturers of other equipment. There is a great potential for cooperation in agriculture and especially in the tourism sector. It also doesn’t make any sense that the number of Serbian tourists in Croatia is relatively low, and yet our countries are so close.
What trends in external trade in goods and investments do you expect to see in 2019?
– We expect to see an increase in external trade in goods, but also an improvement in its structure. IN terms of external trade and individual competitiveness in the global market, our goal is for products of a higher degree of complexity and higher added value, rather than raw materials, to dominate the trade. In order to achieve this, we need to invest in innovation.
To what extent does the complex political situation between the two countries influence the decision of business people to cooperate with each other?
– Political situation does affect the decisions of business people to cooperate with each other. However, business cooperation is always ahead of politics and development of good overall elations in the future should be based on good business relations. Economic development is a universal solution for many problematic points in the relations between the countries of the region. Economic cooperation simply has no alternative and this must be clear to everyone who wants good for the people living in this part of the world.
In that context, what is the environment in which the Croatian Chamber of Economy in Serbia operates like, and what is your cooperation with the Chamber of Commerce of Serbia?
– We do not have slightest problems in our work, and the cooperation with the Chamber of Commerce of Serbia is a true example of collegiality and professionalism. Our two chambers have a great relationship. We exchange experiences and examples of good practice with our colleagues from the Serbian chamber which is very beneficial for our companies when they need to obtain certain information or search for a business partner. We are confident that this trend will continue in the future as well.
What are your Chamber’s goals in 2019?
Our plans for 2019 are to continue creating favourable conditions and business climate in order for the Croatian companies in Serbia to perform even better and achieve better business results, as well as to help create a positive climate for Serbian companies to invest in Croatia. Also, the Chamber plans to organize more business forums with the participation of business people from both countries, to improve the presence at specialized trade fairs, and to continue promoting Croatian products in Serbia.
How can chambers and business communities help with mitigating the problem of a lack of workforce which is becoming increasingly pronounced in the region?
– In Croatia, the Croatian Chamber of Economy advocates higher imported labour quotas as an interim solution of this burning problem. However, we have been insisting on harmonizing our education system with the needs of the labour market through dual education. This is a model that has already been successfully implemented in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, where chambers are the mediators between education and business people. Students not only start working during their schooling, but also get the majority of their education in companies, which is only natural for dual education occupations. The opportunity of students having a faster entry into the labour market can certainly contribute to greater attractiveness of such occupations. For their part, business people are already developing measures to attract and retain workers because this situation is not new. For instance, renowned hotels in Croatia provide additional education and accommodation capacities for their workers. But the problem has to be resolved systematically, at its core and in the long run – by reforming the education system.
What obstacles do Croatian companies in Serbia come across?
– There are no major obstacles for Croatian companies in Serbia compared to other companies. All companies are facing almost identical problems. However, there are several Croatian companies which have achieved a great success here, particulary in the processing industry and railroad infrastructure segment.