Greek companies have been present in almost all business sectors for more than two decades.
Throughout history, Serbs and Greeks have had a strong friendship, which is reflected in the good economic relations between the two countries. We talked with Fanina Kovačević Popaz, the Executive Officer of the Hellenic Business Association of Serbia, about the Greek investments in Serbia, as well as the work of the Hellenic Business Association here.
How important is the cooperation between our two countries in each segment?
Traditionally excellent relations between the two countries at all levels have contributed to the arrival of a large number of Greek companies in Serbia. Greece is an important economic partner of Serbia, and Greek companies have been operating in almost all business sectors in the country for more than two decades. They are especially active in the hotel sector, industry, construction, oil trade, tourism, telecommunications, food and beverage retail, banking, etc. Furthermore, Greece strongly supports Serbia on its path to EU membership. Every year, almost a million Serbian tourists visit Greece, while Belgrade is especially popular with Greeks. Cooperation between our countries in the field of science and education, as well as in culture, is also important. We should also add to that the great humanitarian support that countries provide to each other. In addition, Serbs and Greeks are bound by a strong friendship that they have built in direct contact throughout their common history.
Greece strongly supports Serbia on its path to EU membership.
What were the challenges this year in terms of organizing offline and online events and member gatherings?
The challenges we faced after the outbreak of the pandemic were primarily related to the change in the focus of our work, from the organization of traditional events to the heightened exchange of information, as well as the transition to the online mode of activity. Nevertheless, in a very short time, we have adapted to the new circumstances and responded to the needs of our members. We held webinars on current tax, customs, accounting and legal aspects of the business during the pandemic, we informed members about the course of the pandemic, its impact on regular business, as well as the border crossing regime between Serbia and Greece.
How important is a stable business environment for Greek investors who have been operating here for decades?
A predictable and stable business environment is a precondition for investments, it allows creating of realistic plans and their practical implementation, both for Greek and other companies operating in the Serbian market. In recent years, the Government of Serbia has made significant steps towards creating a stable platform for the country’s economic development and a stimulating investment environment. Serbia is a crossroads of the Balkans, and the free trade agreements that are signed with various countries, allow investors access to numerous markets, both within and outside the EU. Besides that, Serbia’s tax regulation and flexible legal framework are both favorable for businesses. Further connecting the region through the initiative to form a single regional market in the Western Balkans will bring additional benefits and stability.
This year, in cooperation with four other associations, we published a new edition of Member2Member, which aims to support business in Serbia during the Covid-19 pandemic.
What are the biggest similarities between the Greeks and Serbs?
The similarities and ties between Serbs and Greeks have been shaped throughout history, due to geographical proximity, and similarities in culture and history. Byzantine heritage, music, and gastronomy are elements of our common cultural tradition. There are many similarities in the mentality too, and one of them is definitely hospitality. Both nations have a deep-rooted tradition where guests have special treatment, while cordiality and good mood are the main characteristics of the host. Both Serbs and Greeks are keen to preserve their tradition and resolutely pass it on to new generations.
What economic challenges have Greek companies in Serbia been facing due to the global crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and what will the recovery from this crisis look like?
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a global recession. There are many challenges that the business world has faced in the previous period – higher costs due to reduced business revenues, lower demand for goods and services, but also hampered supply chains. The services sector, especially hospitality and tourism, are facing the biggest challenges when it comes to Greek companies operating in Serbia. The Government’s measures to support businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, proved to be very useful, and most of our members used this type of assistance. On the other hand, uncertainty is the biggest challenge for many sectors. The introduction of new work formats, accelerated digitalization and coordinated cooperation between the private and state sectors would significantly contribute to further recovery.
Which organizations and institutions do the HBA cooperate with the most in Serbia and which projects are planned for the next period?
We are very glad that we have been cooperating with almost all similar associations and chambers for many years, with which we have organized numerous joint events and launched initiatives. This year, in cooperation with four other associations, we published a new edition of Member2Member, which aims to support business in Serbia during the Covid-19 pandemic, but also to promote products and services of member companies in the wider business community in the country. In May, we had an online working meeting with members of five bilateral chambers with the representatives of the Ministry of Finance of the Republic of Serbia and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia, titled “Macroeconomic trends in the economy of the Republic of Serbia in the context of COVID-19”. Furthermore, the fourth International Networking Cocktail was recently held, which traditionally brought together a large number of members of 11 bilateral chambers, who participated in the organization of this event. In the coming period, we plan to continue our online activities aimed at further networking between our members. The first such event is the 6th Greek Family Weekend on the Kopaonik Mountain – a three-day trip to meet and develop connections between members and their families.