France is one of the world’s largest economies and there is almost no sector in Serbia in which French companies would not be interested
As everywhere, French companies in Serbia had to change the dynamics of their business and adapt to the new operating conditions as a result of the pandemic. Although the crisis did not have a dramatic impact on business, and there were no mass layoffs in any of the companies, this was definitely one of the biggest challenges.
What were the biggest challenges that French companies in Serbia had to face and what results did they achieve in 2021?
Environmental protection and sustainable development are some of the challenges that need special attention, and sadly Serbia is lagging behind the European Union in this. The Chamber’s member companies have a real sustainable development strategy in Serbia, and we strive to improve the socially responsible character of business on a daily basis while influencing the environmental awareness of the business community. To that end, the Innovating Environment conference was recently held as part of the French Week, organized by the French-Serbian Chamber of Commerce and the French Embassy in Serbia. This business conference will serve as an introduction to the activities that CCIFS plans to implement in 2022, concerning environmental protection.
Large-scale projects, such as Vinci’s concession of the Belgrade airport, are being implemented smoothly. The subway project is going well too, digitalization is being successfully implemented by all of our members, companies did not resort to mass layoffs… All in all, we can say that 2021 was positive for our members.
From the French-Serbian Chamber of Commerce’s stance, what should be the Serbian government’s priorities in terms of improving the business climate in the country in 2022?
Solving the problems caused by the pandemic requires time and hard work of business owners, managers and all employees, as well as the indispensable help of the Government of the Republic of Serbia. In addition to corporations, small and medium-sized enterprises make up a large percentage of our members. They are the backbone of the Serbian economy and we need to fight for these companies to be supported and to help them overcome the difficult period they are going through. Small and medium-sized enterprises need support, primarily the state’s help, in finding clients, getting subsidies for market research or employing market research staff in companies that are not yet export-oriented. To that end, we act as a chamber to facilitate the business of our member companies through numerous initiatives that we have undertaken and which we will continue in 2022.
Furthermore, we believe that it is necessary to help young people to develop their talents, but also to direct the economy towards solving the problem of youth unemployment. For that reason, we have dedicated a large number of activities at the French-Serbian Chamber of Commerce to students and graduates. We also believe that the relevant segments at the Serbian Government can be more actively involved in this joint struggle to keep young people in Serbia and provide an adequate and quality business environment for them.
Solving the problems caused by the pandemic requires time and hard work of business owners, managers and all employees, as well as indispensable government help
IT and digitalization are development priorities of the Serbian economy in the coming years. In what direction do you think these sectors are moving?
The process of digitalization is a development priority for the Serbian economy, and at the same time, it is a great challenge. Nevertheless, the Serbian economy manages to single out positive aspects of this process. The application of digital technologies is imperative for the sustainability of successful business entities today and in the future, and with initiatives to which the Serbian government contributes, we will continue to boost the Chamber’s activities and the activities of member companies in that direction.
Is Serbia ready in terms of the sufficient number of educated staff, knowledge and expertise when it comes to the development of innovations, IT products, etc.?
The information and communication technology sector is one of the pillars of the Serbian economy. Significant stakeholders in the IT market are consolidating and making a strong appearance. The IT sector has long brought together thousands of companies that generate record revenues. Foreign, and by that, I also mean French IT companies, have a strong interest in the Serbian market and cooperation with the domestic community. A good indicator of this is the increase in exports of digital programmes and applications, as well as the fact that exports in this sector have become higher than exports of agricultural products, which have traditionally been in the first place.
The IT sector in Serbia is becoming increasingly important, and the data show that the value of these services is constantly growing, as well as the number of educated staff, and thus employees. Despite the pandemic, the sector has remained stable. Such sustainability is just one of the reasons why people choose to work and improve in this area.
Therefore, I believe that Serbia has great potential when it comes to the IT sector and it is primarily embodied in talented and promising people and their innovative knowledge and skills. With such a workforce, the success of the IT sector is guaranteed, as the relevant data show.
How would you rate the economic cooperation between France and Serbia and in which areas could it be improved?
I would rate the current climate in the economic relations between France and Serbia as very good, but promoting the Serbian market’s potential with French companies is an indispensable segment of improving relations which is the CCIFS’ main goal.
French business people are most interested in Serbian infrastructure, the transport sector, the energy sector, digital technologies, as well as public-private partnerships. I believe that cooperation in these areas will flourish in the future because it has already intensified. The French are also interested in environmental protection, and I believe that this is an important segment in which cooperation between the two countries should be enhanced. In this sense, in 2022m we will organize a large regional forum on public-private partnerships, which will focus on the aforementioned sectors.
We are continuing to support French companies throughout the Western Balkans and expand our network of members
Which direction will the Serbian economy take in the coming period, given the good results of recent years?
I believe we can expect economic growth despite the challenges if we continue to preserve business, value initiatives and reward entrepreneurship. Our economy follows the growth of the EU economy which is our largest commercial partner, and as the EU economy has projected imminent growth, we can be optimistic. The announced opening of new chapters in negotiations with the EU, and especially the upcoming French presidency of the European Union, plus the focus on the European perspective and economic integration of the Western Balkans presented by President Macron on December 9th as priorities of the French presidency, are all important positive signals.
What will be the Chamber’s key activities in 2022?
As for the French-Serbian Chamber of Commerce, the priorities will be actively working on the affirmation of Serbia as the economic hub of the Western Balkan region, as well as strengthening the role that the CCIFS has in Serbia. We are continuing to support French companies throughout the Western Balkans and expand our network of members. We welcome all companies, regardless of their geographical origin, because we all share a desire to cooperate. Our Chamber has a personal stamp and we nurture our unique spirit which is a combination of business and hedonism.