Serbia has an opportunity to improve competitiveness of the country by accelerating important structural reforms, improving efficiency of public administration, and continuing the process of the EU accession. As already settled Swiss investors witness, some progress is already visible
There is no better recommendation for one country as an investment and a business destination, than the satisfaction of the companies that are already doing business in the country. At present there are about 200 Swiss and Switzerland-related companies operating in Serbia, in many fields spanning from industry to services. Having in mind that some of them are global leaders and that the Swiss economy is one of the most competitive economies in the world, it is in the best interest of Serbia to attract more investors of that kind as they bring innovation, new skills and drive export. As a result of the growing interest of the representatives of the Swiss business community in Serbia to foster economic relations between Serbia and Switzerland, in March 2014, the Swiss-Serbian Chamber of Commerce (SSCC) was developed and since then SSCC plays an important role in facilitating the dialogue between the two countries, promoting Swiss values in Serbia and creating new networking opportunities for business professionals.
We spoke with Yana Mikhailova, President of the Swiss-Serbian Chamber of Commerce, about the overall macroeconomic climate in Serbia, expectations of the Swiss business community with regard to major economic reforms in the country, creation of links between the educational system and the needs of businesses, Swiss experiences in dual education, and the activities of the SSCC and its members. The good news is that the Swiss businesses are positive about their engagement in the country, but expect the Serbian government to continue to improve the business environment in Serbia by putting more efforts into privatization of state-owned enterprises, cutting the red tape and increasing its engagement in law enforcement along the EU accession path.
What do Swiss companies operating in Serbia think of the overall business climate in the country?
In January-February 2016, the SSCC conducted a business climate survey among the members of the Swiss-Serbian business community in order to get feedback on the changes in the business climate and share expectations for the coming year. The survey confirmed a positive change in their perception of the business climate in Serbia, which is good news, as the country’s best ambassadors are businesspeople who are already well settled in the market and have positive expectations for the further business development and economic growth.
In the context of promoting new investments, what should be the future priorities of the Serbian government in terms of improving the overall business environment?
The biggest improvements in the business environment in Serbia will come from three major actions:
a) Accelerating important structural reforms, especially the privatisation of state-owned enterprises;
b) Improving the efficiency of public administration and reducing unnecessary bureaucracy, and;
c) Continuing work on the further harmonisation of Serbian laws with the EU Acquis communautaire.
Law enforcement, consistent, clear and transparent implementation of the laws by all market participants, is important for the improvement of the business environment, as well as the development of the regulatory framework. Investors are seeking macroeconomic and political stability, and consistent development of the economy. Serbia is well positioned to accelerate economic development and grow export, supported by a well-developed framework of free-trade agreements, not only within the region through CEFTA, and the EU, but also with Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Turkey and EFTA countries.
How often do Swiss companies come across insufficiently trained workforce and are they willing to provide educational training at their facilities?
Apprenticeships, internships and job trainings are well-established practices in Swiss companies. Switzerland is well known for its education system, which prepares graduates to enter the workforce. For example, the Nestle Alliance for Youth programme is uniting companies around the globe to employ and train young professionals in the companies. Many SSCC members offer educational programmes to train newcomers. Serbia has a strong base in academic education. What’s missing? Close links between the education system and industry. The current educational model leaves a gap in certain skills. That gap is usually covered by companies’ training courses. Small and medium-sized enterprises that have a limited training capacity inside their companies face difficulties in recruiting skilled specialist – graduates.
Speaking from your experience in Switzerland, what do you think is the most important thing for Serbian legislators to do now, considering that they have been busy drafting the Dual Education Law?
Clarity of the strategic direction of the Serbian Government in modernising and developing the education system in Serbia increases the attractiveness of the market for investors. The new education system is expected to be better adapted to the needs of the economy; and the dual education system, which is well-established in Switzerland, is seen by SSCC as a good solution. However, the development of the dual education law itself, or the transfer of dual education knowhow, will not change the country’s education system immediately. That will require consistency in implementation of the new programme, as well as partnership of the public and the private sectors to establish a well-functioning dual education system in the Serbian context, which differs much from the Swiss one.
What are the Swiss-Serbian Chamber of Commerce’s biggest successes to date?
The Swiss-Serbian Chamber of Commerce is an organisation established for the purposes of contributing to the further development of economic cooperation between Switzerland and Serbia, and to promote Swiss ways of doing business – compliant, transparent, expert-driven and efficient. The SSCC business community, which unites world leading enterprises and SMEs from different industries, works actively on making Serbia a better place for businesses. SSCC members are active participants in events, workshops and conferences organised by the Chamber. They are willing to share experience, provide constructive feedback to the stakeholders and offer concrete proposals on further improvements of the business climate. I see the commitment of SSCC members to challenge the status quo and make Serbia a better place to do business as a major success of the SSCC. A good example of such activities will be the Conference on
the Development of SMEs in Serbia.
How does the Chamber encourage trade between the two countries and the arrival of Swiss investors in Serbia?
The SSCC provides business assistance to potential Swiss investors who are evaluating the possibility of entering the Serbian market, contributes to the resolution of existing issues, and also contributes to creating new business opportunities for the member-companies.
To what extent could turbulences, both in the EU and in the region, impact on the business activities of Swiss companies in Serbia, considering that the EU is one of Serbia’s biggest export markets?
The modern world is interconnected and any changes in the economic or political context in the EU or the region will have a certain impact on all companies operating in the country. However, despite of all adversities, Serbia has an opportunity to improve the competitiveness of the country by improving the business climate and continuing economic reforms. The sustainable economic growth that has been achieved in the last few quarters might positively impact investors. SSCC members, who have been successfully developing their businesses in Serbia for years, will continue to contribute to the economic growth of the country, as well as to promoting Serbia as an investment destination