Greek investments to Serbia remain high, while the volume of the bilateral trade is still bellow potential. In order to fully exploit the economic and trade potential the partners should pursue cooperation in traditional and new sectors such as IT and green energy.

Greece traditionally represents an important economic partner of Serbia. The two countries have always enjoyed excellent bilateral relations, reflected through important Greek investments in Serbia over the past 15 years. Unfortunately, this high level of business cooperation is not equally mirrored in the commercial sector, where the overall volume of bilateral trade, despite our potentials, remains relatively low – EUR 448.5 million in 2017, says Zafeirios Lampadaridis, President of the Management Board Helenic Business Associatiion (HBA).

Which goods dominate the trade?

– Although Serbian imports from Greece have mainly consisted of food and beverage products, but also raw materials, finished metal products etc., and exports are fairly similar, with increasing positive trends in chemicals and manufactured goods, the two sides consider that great potential exists to further develop our trade relations. This is going to be implemented by jointly exploring opportunities and complementarities in sectors like agriculture, food and beverage, building and construction materials, energy, information and communication technologies etc. In purpose of that, many B2B meetings are organised in order to provide a possibility to discuss potential new products, technologies and services, business and research cooperation, technology transfer agreements, find buyers and suppliers and even more.

How much did the extention of the chamber co-operation and regular summits in Thessaloniki affect the growth of external trade between the two countries and networking between Serbian and Greek companies?

– We are very pleased that we are witnesses of the further strengthening of already excellent relations in entrepreneurship between our two countries, as Greek investments to Serbia remain high, while the Serbians every year contribute to the increase of tourism revenue for Greece. In order to fully exploit the economic and trade potential and increase the level of bilateral trade between Greece and Serbia, the high-level meetings in Thessaloniki gave impetus in promotion of major transport projects, infrastructure and energy in the Balkans, as the TAP pipeline which has already gone a long way and the railway interconnection. On the other hand, the Greek-Serbian Business Forum which was held in Thessaloniki, has become a traditional event for business people from Serbia and Greece to meet and discuss the possibilities of further cooperation. Such B2B meetings allow companies from both countries to launch new cross-border contacts and expand their exports. In addition, they refresh relations and create a framework for business synergies in sectors like food, energy, ICT, tourism, real estate and pharmaceuticals and adds that great interest from both sides has been shown and that some joint projects will be eventually undertaken in the short-medium run.

What is your view of the development of cooperation in the Western Balkans and what impact would economic networking between the Western Balkan countries have on Greek businesses?

– The economic cooperation in the Western Balkans is an important mechanism/process/policy which leads to reconciliation in this post-conflict region and, second, through connecting, networking and adjusting of business environment it enhances the growth of trade and investments – particularly foreign direct investments – thus providing an important prerequisite for a faster economic growth. Also, the increasing economic interconnection among the countries of Western Balkans has a possitive impact on Greek business environment. In terms of private Greek investment, the Western Balkans have mostly attracted the attention of large industrial manufacturing groups, who benefit from the low cost of labor, the even lower taxes on opening factories and, of course, the proximity to Western Balkans market. Even though the region is already host to many Greek companies, the improving infrastructure between countries and the reducing trade delays will also contribute to a better business climate.

How does the Hellenic Business Association endorse this initiative?

– Encouragingly, the Hellenic Business Association, along with its partners in neighbouring countries, is committed to support a number of cross-border road and railway projects in the coming years and several important regional energy projects that are also under way or being considered. These include the development of corridor X (road and rail) from Thessaloniki through Skopje, Belgrade, Zagreb and Budapest, the Pan-European corridor IX from Alexandroupolis through Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, the Black Sea and Russia, the Adriatic-Ionian corridor through the Western Balkans to the port of Bar in Montenegro, the Trans Adriatic Pipeline, the gas interconnector pipeline between Greece and Bulgaria, and a planned LNG floating terminal in Alexandroupolis. The only way to boost Greek-Western Balkans relations and trade, create business partnerships between those countries, and provide assistance in imports and exports is to endorse initiatives that promote integration with region of high potential and strong business performance. These projects are not only important for the countries themselves but also for Greek entrepreneurship in terms of reducing the cost and time of transport. We strongly believe that such joint projects will bring international entrepreneurs closer and link potential associates from Greece.

What importance does establishing transport links between the port of Pireaus and Belgrade and Budapest hold for the mutual cooperation? How realistic is this plan?

– In terms of financial integration, the COSCO Piraeus project is a consensus that the project conforms to the fundamental interests of China, Greece and the region. The project could serve as a landmark event in Greece’s efforts to attract foreign investment as the construction of it aims at promotion of the trade liberalization and facilitation among countries along the “Belt and Road”. As to create a more favorable business environment, the development of the Port of Piraeus definetely promise to lead to the build-up of common prosperity of the whole region. How fantastic such a project seems to be, lies in the fact that COSCO plans are expected to increase the cruise traffic from 1 million passengers a year to 1.5 million in the short term. If this will be achieved, the real significance of the COSCO project is highlighted by the opportunity it offers to Greece to return to the international capital market, which is vitally important for Greece to walk out of the crisis and realize revitalization. Furthermore, the project will benefit both Greece, Serbia and Hungary, as it brings down remarkably the cost of time, energy, and capital for the flow of commodities between China and Europe and between Asia and Europe. We are left with nothing but to wait for the results of this project and hope that our countries, that is countries along the “Road and Belt”, could well become a new driving force for world economic growth in the coming decades.

How much did the issue of digitization and technological changes affect the Greek economy?

– The Information and Communications Technology sector is one of the most promising in the Greek economy, driven mostly by the demand for automation and digitalization in the Greek public and private sectors. The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector is already important to the Greek economy and the country’s geostrategic location means it has the opportunity to become an ICT hub for the wider region. The growth of digital is resulting in a tremendous amount of disruption for telecommunications operators and wireless carriers. Focusing on the Greek Communications industry, surveyed executives appear not only currently strong, but also ambitious about their five-year expectations, aiming to adopt leading digital practices across their operations. Adopting digital technology as a fundamental strategic pillar can and will reshape the wider Greek economy, driving innovation, growth and job creation. Despite the public sector, which is driven by several major public procurement projects in the ICT field, the private sector is also investing in Greece’s networks. Forthnet is putting money into fiber-optics. OTE Group, Greece’s largest telecommunications provider, has already spent €2 billion on NGAs and plans to invest another €1.5 billion by 2020.

Which sectors are the most progressive in terms of application of new technologies?

– The latest generation of businesses in Greece are making increasing use of new technology. According to data processed by the Federation of Hellenic Information Technology & Communications Enterprises (SEPE), this rate is among the highest in the European Union, ranking Greece second only to Germany. The 2014-2020 National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF) programming for the absorption of European Union Funds and the National Digital Strategy (2016-2021) are expected to be a major drivers for economic and ICT market growth in Greece. The main areas that already boost the economy in Greece are the Competiveness and Entrepreneurship, the Upgrading of public Sector, Environment / Transportation and the Training / Lifelong learning / Employment opportunities.

Is the structure of Greek companies in Serbia changing to adapt to the partners and investors that bring high technology here?

– Adaptability is a new competitive advantage. When leading businesses seem to be falling behind in sectors where they were once the dominant players, there is a clear recognition that the status quo cannot be maintained and for sure this is what Greek businesses know very well. Besides, if this were not the case, Greek companies would not have managed to maintain their stable and recognisable presence in the Serbian market during the crisis. The modern way of doing business, brings new standards and Serbia is a destination of high-technology investments, generating 10 percent of its gross domestic product from information technology. With this in mind, existing Greek businesses have been forced to push their businesses to their competitive limits, have the ability to respond to changes in how they structure their companies, implement technology and relate to customers and employees while never losing sight of their original vision.

The Hellenic Business Association, along with its partners in neighbouring countries, is committed to support a number of cross-border road and railway projects in the region in the coming years

The Greek-Serbian Business Forum creates a framework for business synergies in sectors like food, energy, ICT, tourism, real estate and pharmaceuticals and many others

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