President of the German-Serbian Chamber of Commerce (AHK Serbia) and CEO of Hemofarm
This year, we celebrate 20 years of German investments in Serbia and this is a great results! During this period we made a significant progress bringing more and more investors to this country and matching German companies with Serbian suppliers. I am looking forward to the next 20 years ooking back on the two decades of German investments in Serbia, Dr. Ronald Seeliger, President of German-Serbian Chamber of Commerce (AHK Serbia) and the CEO of Hemofarm, has strong reasons to be satisfied. Many things have been achieved – from new investors coming to Serbia to trade relations that went from mere 2 billion euros in 2010 to 5 billion euros in 2019. Yet instead of sitting on the laurels, Mr Seeliger suggests new steps which may be taken to push for growth of Serbian economy and consequently German – Serbian economic relations.
What is your view of the ongoing economic reforms? Do you think that these reforms will bring more investments to Serbia as some European officials believe?
Quality, in-depth and strategic reforms are needed and should be appreciated by everyone, no matter whether coming from business or other field. I have already mentioned on several occasions that Serbia has succeeded in overcoming the major macroeconomic imbalances and the next task is to continue conducting structural reforms and changing certain patterns of doing business and behaviour thoroughly and in the long run. Looking back to the past, every systemic change has been awarded with greater trust of investors, sometimes it looks like they come in ‘waves’ after important developments. So, I say a big YES to continuation of economic reforms, but also to taking greater care about green projects, better traffic organisation, and investments in infrastructure.
How competitive are the conditions that Serbia offers to investors compared to other countries in the region and in which areas should Serbia exert more effort into increasing its appeal?
There is no official table for comparison of Serbia to other investment destinations and there is no investment zone which clicks all yes; in reality, when they come, investors firstly want to know the answers to some general questions such as the public debt, inflation, currency and exchange rate, state subsidies, infrastructure, etc. Then they dive deeper into more specific data related to particular industry, but in general investors do come to certain country because they believe they have a large market for their products or because they believe the specific market offers the so-called unique success factors such as qualified labour, motivated and disciplined work force, and low production costs, of course. In the latter area, Serbia was playing strong and it seems this would be a right moment for the state and local authorities to reinvest into new infrastructure and labour force training, in order to attract new investors. These factors have to be periodically rebuilt for purpose to stay fit and attractive for new-comers. Actually, when speaking about additional efforts to be made, the focus should be on the main drivers of growth such as labour skills, infrastructure, the quality of government services and regulations, and the rule of law. There is still a huge space for improvements in the field of predictability of business operations, i.e. possibility to do business within a clear, precise and expected frame work.
In one of your interviews you mentioned that you would like to change the stagnant, slow, rigid and bureaucratic structure in Serbia that you face on a daily basis. What exactly did you mean by that?
Serbia is still ‘contaminated’ with bureaucracy and should get rid of it as soon as possible. You cannot go digital and at the same time depend on some stiff bureaucratic rules from the last century. I witnessed many times that while doing something online, a clerk was also obliged to write it down in the paper books. Therefore, I also advocate e-government and e-commerce should speed-up, we need to embrace digital era.
To what extent can the good experiences of investors in Serbia affect the interest of new or potential German investors?
Every satisfied investor is the promoter of the country, i.e. its best or worst ambassador. I try to emphasize as often as possible that besides attracting new investors, we need to think about the existing ones and nurture them all the times. Take a look at the German investors, for example. They perceive their business in Serbia in the long run and they invest continuously. There are some 400 companies with German capital doing business in Serbia at the moment, and they employ 60,000 workers here. Many of these German companies have invested not once but repeatedly in expanding production capacities, employing additional workers, and growing year after year. This is actually the main reason for which we need to take care about the existing investors full time – firstly, they will make new investments, and secondly, they will simultaneously be a promoter of Serbia as a good investment destination.
What are the local companies’ capacities in terms of meeting the required conditions and standards for cooperating with German partners and in what way will the newly established chamber assist them in achieving the required level?
I remember that in the previous interview for Diplomacy, I mentioned that the AHK Buyers’ Initiative, through which we bring German industrial companies into contact with potential suppliers from the Western Balkans, has already shown great results. Soon after we started this initiative in 2015, with the support of German Minister of Economics, we discovered a number of family-owned companies very well organized and ready to supply German industrial companies with high-quality parts. Now, several years later, we have tangible results of the AHK Suppliers’ Initiative – since 2015, around 600 companies from the Western Balkans started cooperating with companies in Germany. Among those 600, approximately one-third of the supplier companies from the Western Balkans come from Serbia. This is the concrete outcome of the AHK work in this field. This is definitely the area in which Serbia can find its role, and for sure, a niche to be further explored.
Which of AHK’s activities would you like to single out as being the most important for boosting mutual economic cooperation?
The previously mentioned Buyers’ Initiative for sure is one of the most important AHK activities in the near past. Another important activity is the consultancy for potential investors we provide. What is actually happening in the real life: medium-sized German industrial companies especially like to make use of our all-round carefree package with our support in finding suitable locations and cooperation partners for the investor. However, we do a lot in the other areas such as education for example. Since Germany has vast experience in the field of dual education, AHK was supporting heavily the state and institutions in the introduction of dual education within the secondary education system in Serbia. This is a non-business area which is very influential to daily business: qualified labour force is one of key factors for every company and its operations.
When speaking about the collaboration with others, how would you rate the quality of the cooperation between AHK and the Serbian government?
We cooperate with the government on many important issues related to business, education and culture, and it is already well-known fact that we are at disposal for expert and other support. I have to admit that we have achieved significant progress in communication and joint work with different stakeholders in the state. In the last decade, AHK proved to be a relevant actor and partner and the state recognises this. This year, we celebrate 20 years of German investments in Serbia and this is a great result! During these 20 years, we made a significant progress bringing more and more investors to this country and making excellent results. For example, in 2010, the trade exchange between our two countries was less than 2 billion EUR, while in 2019, we expect to have made a new record of 5 billion or even more in trade exchange. I said many years ago that we came here to stay and we kept our promise. Looking forward to the next 20 years