TATJANA MATIĆ, State Secretary, Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications: SERBIA ON THE DIGITAL SILK ROAD

Digital literacy as the biggest challenge

State Secretary at the Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications, Tatjana Matić official-ly visited China in August. In the interview, she talks about what kind of agreements have been concluded there, how much has Serbia achieved in digital transformation and other important topics.

You have recently visited the Digital Development Fair in China. How much can Serbia learn from China about the digital economy and how much are we lagging behind the rest of the world in this respect?

— The second Smart China fair took place in the Chinese city of  Chong-qing. Smart technologies and innovations were presented at the fair, which also hosted the conference International Cooperation on the Digital Silk Road. The conference was attended by more than 400 guests from around the world, and in addition to government officials, including our country’s delegation, representatives from leading  IT industry companies participated in it. It is evident that China is becoming a dominant force in shaping the digital future and it is good that Serbia has joined the Digital  Silk Road since we need to learn from the best.

Although Serbia cannot compete with the global IT powers, the double-digit growth rate of IT services, as well as the continued growth of the electronic communications market, digitalization of education and subsequent staffing are all indicators that we are following global trends and that we are well on the way to digital transformation.What happened with the arrival of the Chinese company Alibaba in Serbia?

— Negotiations with the Alibaba Group are ongoing and we are finalizing plans aimed at launching the Alipay electronic payment platform in the Serbian market, as well as promoting Serbia’s tour-ism offer in China. We again spoke with the representatives of that Chinese company on the margins of the Chongqing trade fair but also with the representatives of the Chinese tech giant  Ten-cent Cloud about the opportunities of cooperation in the field of electronic payment. Another topic of discussion was the construction of a data centre in Serbia, which would represent the East-ern European backbone of their infrastructure. It was agreed that we should continue the talks with the company’s European team as early as September. Tencent has reached a market value of $ 531 billion and according to an IT sec-tor analysis, it is currently the second leading company in the world, just behind Amazon from the US.

What challenges is Serbia facing in terms of digital transformation?

— The biggest challenge is boosting the digital literacy of the entire population and their confidence in new technologies. We buy and use technology to function and work faster and more efficiently, but we also need to develop digital skills and digital security culture. An additional challenge is the integration of new digital tools into the business. To improve the overall digital literacy, the Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications is preparing a Digital Skills Development Strategy, with particular emphasis on certain categories of the population such as young people, senior citizens, as well as residents of less developed areas to reduce the digital gap.

Last year, the Government of Serbia adopted a Strategy for the  Development of the New Generation Networks by 2023. How many objectives of this Strategy have been accomplished and what still needs to be done?

— The primary objective of the Strategy for the Development of the New Generation Networks by 2023 is to create the conditions for the development of the Digital Single Market. The development of next-generation networks will enable the deployment of modern technologies such as cloud computing, the Internet of Things and big data. In this regard, the Government has adopted the base-line for developing an initial network for testing the technologies required for the integration into the Digital Single Market. An initial network for testing new technologies has been launched and it currently uses a 5G base station installed in the Zvezdara Science and Technology Park, which will enable testing of equipment for new technological solutions.

What about the Digital  Agenda for the Western Balkans?

— One of the first goals of the Digital Agenda for the Western Balkans was to reduce roaming services’ costs. In April this year, representatives of six West-ern Balkan economies (Serbia, Monte-negro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo*) signed a Regional Roaming Agreement, which came into force on July 1st and which reduced roaming prices by between 20 to 90 percent. This is only the first phase, that is, a transitional period towards the introduction of the Roam Like at Home regime that is implemented in the EU. From July 1st, 2021, the price for calls, text messages and data transfer in the roaming regime in the Western Balkans region corresponds to the price paid by consumers in their domestic electronic communications networks. This leads to financial savings and easier communication for citizens, but also fosters the development of the digital economy, regional cooperation and faster introduction of new technological solutions. In line with the Declaration of Support to the Digital Agenda for the Western Balkans, following the abolition of roaming charges in the Western Balkans, the next phase stipulates a cost reduction between the Western Balkan economies and the European Union.

How can we increase the digital literacy of companies and people?

— Research on the use of computers in domestic companies shows that 100% of businesses use a computer, regardless of their size,  activity or location.  However, the percentage of employees who use a computer daily is significantly lower compared to the EU countries. That is why education is the main way to increase the digital capacity of companies and their employees. To avoid human resources problems in the future,  we have launched the education system reform.  The Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications, together with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development, is implementing a large-scale project called ‘Connected Schools’, which entails building an infrastructure required for having wireless local Internet in schools, providing schools with computer equipment and creating digital teaching content.

What do the amendments to the E-Commerce Law bring?

— The amendments to the E-Commerce Law, as well as the new Commerce Law, regulate the online market, primarily with the view of reducing the possibility of fraud and deception of consumers. Also, they introduce a mechanism for removing inappropriate on-line content and allow citizens to submit market inspection reports if they receive text messages or emails that agitate them. Such changes were also necessary to protect registered sellers, that is, to curb the shadow economy.

A new draft Law on Electronic Communications is currently being  prepared.  What kind of novelties does he bring?

— The Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications has prepared the text of the new Law on Electronic Communications that aligns our legislation with the EU’s legal framework, improves the conditions for doing business for electronic communications operators and most importantly, promotes competition and enhances the protection of the rights of electronic communications services users.  The new law will prescribe mechanisms to prevent over-consumption, and specify the obligations of operators relating to inform-ing consumers about contract terms and service prices, as well as obligations of consumers in case of early termination of contracts.

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