Sanja Ivanić, Director of French-Serbian Chamber of Commerce and Industry: FRENCH COMPANIES TRUST US

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Just like in the past period, in 2019 too, we are going to do everything in our power to remain an entry point and source of support to French companies interested in the Serbian market, and to create new business opportunities for all our members.

The FSCCI has more than 120 members and represents over 100 companies in Serbia. Some of the largest French companies, such as Tigar Tyres, Schneider Electric, Atos, Lafarge, Societe Generale Serbia, Credit Agricole, Egis, L’Oréal Balkan, Le Bélier, Renault, Sanofi, Sladara Soufflet, and Veolia are Chamber members and its patrons.

Since the beginning of the year, seven small and medium enterprises from France came to Serbia which are, traditionally speaking, more cautious when coming to foreign markets. The reason why they came here is because they have recognized good conditions for launching a business,” says Sanja Ivanić, Director of the FSCCI and adds:

French companies which choose to come to Serbia see the Chamber as their first point of contact in Serbia, where they can get their first address, technical support and work space. Every month, we receive dozens of queries from French companies from a variety of fields: metal processing, food processing, materials processing, infrastructure, textile industry and many others.”

Are your members satisfied with the business conditions in Serbia?

— Our members are satisfied with the business environment in Serbia because the conditions for doing business are improving year-on-year since the state, through various programmes, is facilitating and boosting the operations of domestic and foreign companies in order to achieve economic growth and a better living standard. Most commonly, the reasons why French companies come to Serbia are excellent geographical position, competitiveness and quality and availability of workforce. What keeps them in the Serbian market is the advantages of a market that is undergoing full expansion, ability to have regional presence, great industrial tradition, professional and adaptable workforce, quality infrastructure and flexible labour legislation. The low corporate income tax rate (15%) is
also one of the conditions that facilitates their business.

Apart from macroeconomic stability, which other key factors make Serbia an interesting destination for investments?

— Apart from accelerated economic growth and improved business climate, numerous free trade agreements with
various countries and Serbia’s central position in southeast Europe, which makes the country an ideal hub for any company wishing to cover a big territory and obtain many clients, make Serbia appealing in the eyes of investors.

How much room does digital industry create for the cooperation between our two countries?

— The digital industry is one industry that has undoubtedly had the fastest development in recent years, and is of crucial importance to the Serbian economy. The potential of this sector lies primarily in a highly qualified, accessible and financially affordable workforce. More than 85% employees in this sector are highly educated and almost all of them speak fluent English. This is what investors have recognized and why they have decided to invest in Serbia. There is also the quality infrastructure and strategic support of the state. The strategic determination and business model of the companies operating in the digital sector entails working with local partners, renowned domestic companies, which implies technology transfer and innovation, as well as distribution and availability of products throughout Serbia.

How much did the growing interest of French companies affect the Chamber’s operations, its internal organization and the number of inquiries you need to reply to?

— The growing interest of French companies does manifest itself in an increased number of inquiries that we have to deal with and reply to in a timely manner. Supporting companies is one of the Chamber’s main activities and we are trying to provide companies from various sectors with a quality market analysis with the view of giving them the best and most precise information possible. Oftentimes, the Chamber is the first point of contact for French conpanies and we would like to maintain our good reputation in the French-Serbian business community. We reply to all inquiries whether it is for exporting to or investing in Serbia. Also, we are active in France where, in collaboration with regional chambers, we meet with companies from various regions in France. We have also been an operational partner of the French state agency, Business France for a number of years and we hope that together we will manage to bring as many French companies as possible to Serbia.

What is your advice to Serbian companies that show interest in doing business in the French market? Can they do that individually, or as a member of a business community, or with the state’s help?

— We have received inquiries from Serbian companies wanting to do business in France. Although our main activity is to provide support to French companies that show interest in Serbia, and considering that we still do not have a support sector in „the opposite direction“, i.e. the local support in the French market, we nevertheless respond to inquiries of Serbian companies in a timely manner. We provide them with general information that we have relating to accessing the French market, as well as more detailed information if available to us. The French market is one of the largest in Europe and the competition is fierce so Serbian companies rarely decide for such a move. I think this is a task for the entire business community, headed by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia, i.e. to
work primarily on strengthening the domestic economy, and then facilitating access to foreign markets.

What are your plans for 2019?

— Our plans are to concretize the projects that we launched two years ago with the aim of bolstering regional cooperation. We are already working directly in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, and we have signed an agreement with the Association of the Macedonian Chambers of Commerce, stipulating assistance in this market, all with the goal of attracting more French companies and offering them the chance to operate in a larger market. The
Chamber began its operations first as a club in 2005, and was subsequently admitted to the Union of French Chambers of Commerce Abroad in late 2009. Since then, we have reached the third level of classification of the French Chambers of Commerce Abroad, which means that we are authorized to provide all the services that French chambers could provide, not only to the members but also giving full support to all French companies. For seven years now, we have been an operational partner of the French state export and investment agency, Business France and we hope that this cooperation will be further improved in the future.

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