Italian and Serbian culture, economy, and history create special bilateral relations
The sixth edition of InFocus Italy magazine dedicated to the Italian economy in Serbia could not have gone to print without including the interview with Giorgio Marchegiani, President of the Italian-Serbian Chamber of Commerce and CEO of DDOR Osiguranje. Our journalist Mina Vučić has spoken with Mr Marchegiani as the Chamber he chairs acts as a bridge between the Serbian and Italian business communities, and together they have discussed current statistical data and plans.
Could you give us a few numbers that best describe the special relationship Italy and Serbia have, in comparison to other countries?
In terms of the numbers of businesses here, there are about 1,600 Italian companies or companies with Italian shareholdings. Our Chamber of Commerce has made a very detailed analysis which shows that almost 600 businesses, out of the aforementioned 1,600, are very influential. This is an extremely relevant number as Serbia is a country with 7 million people and these companies employ over 50,000 people who correspond to 2% of all Serbian employees (2.5 million people). This is quite an astonishing fact. These companies generate 5.4% of Serbia’s GDP. However, the numbers are relative as the companies we take into consideration are very different; from Fiat, banks, insurance companies, and many other large market players to smaller companies. Serbia and Italy have established a great connection that facilitates bilateral relations. It is also important to talk about the links between the two nations since we are all aware of the cultural and historical connections existing amongst us and this is fundamental for our relationships. Another significant aspect is the re-established interest of Italian companies in Serbia in the post-Covid era, and we hope Serbia will become an even more attractive destination for Italians.
Serbia is not only a country with low production costs, which is a quite outdated thought, but also a market that offers many opportunities, especially in the fields of innovative technology and green economy
Which economic sectors are the Italian companies most active in?
Generally speaking, the manufacturing sector, which produces everything from socks to car parts, especially the textile and automotive subsectors, is the sector in which our companies are most active. They are very active also in the agricultural industry and the financial sector, where two large Italian banks operating in Serbia – Intesa, the largest bank, and UniCredit, the second-largest bank- rule the game. I should also mention insurance companies that occupy top market positions, for example DDOR Osiguranje part of UNIPOL Group and Generali Osiguranje Serbia. Lastly, we can find the electronics and technology industry and service sector. Italian producers of refrigerator parts and marketing agencies are also important market players in Serbia. I would also like to highlight the renewable energy sector as a very important one since we believe in the next decade this sector will create a lot of opportunities for the establishment and growth of Italian companies in Serbia. We would like to take the Serbian know-how to a global level. There is a very wide range of companies in different sectors, which is a positive aspect, as it proves Serbia is not only a country with low production costs, which is a quite outdated thought, but also a market that offers many opportunities, especially in the fields of innovative technology and green economy.
What are Serbia’s advantages as an investment destination?
Serbia, specifically in the post-Covid era, has and will have a lot of investment advantages. The nation’s geographical position as a crossroads of the Balkans is one of its greatest benefits. Another advantage is the free trade agreements that Serbia has with the Russian Federation and Turkey, as well as other Asian countries. Serbia, therefore, acts as a springboard, making it easy to move and transfer around the region and outside the EU. The third one is the working environment, in fact, Serbia has great production prerequisites and, although the production costs are rising, they are still much lower than in other European countries. Serbian workers are also highly skilled and efficient in production. Going back to Yugoslavia times, there were a lot of industry sectors that were highly developed and successful, and their efficiency has remained stable till now in Serbia. The packaging and automotive industry are the best examples of this. Lastly, the greatest benefits come with the technological development in Novi Sad, dubbed the European Silicon Valley. This constant presence of excellence in numerous sectors creates many advantages for future investments that could be done from a great number of Serbian nationals who are coming back home from abroad during the pandemic. This is a beautiful thing to observe because it can stimulate the economy even more.
We expect great development in the future
What will be further developments in bilateral economic relations?
I believe in small and middle-sized companies and the service sector. Italy also strives for excellence in fashion and design which are a big part of our culture, and, in my opinion, this is something Serbs can benefit from. In addition, it is arguable that the environmental sector is developing, and this is very important as every nation should pay attention to the territory it owns. Serbian sustainable energy sources, recycling, and water cleaning systems sectors can grow quite a lot. This is something that has slowly started to emerge, and for this reason, it also needs acceptance and regulation from the authorities, which could also benefit from this, due to its vital importance. In the EU, we have all learned how destructive not respecting the environment and throwing waste without recycling can be destructive. We do hope that Serbia will be able to use our experiences and not repeat the same mistakes Italy did in recent decades. Creativity, as well, has great potential for development as it can allow the interchanging of ideas; this is something I think Serbia can learn from us and implement locally. Finally, the market space for Serbian companies in Italy is huge, given the fact that Serbia has been developing a very serious business environment with medium-sized production companies, such as those in the packaging industry. We expect great development in the future.
The Chamber of Commerce acts as a bridge that unites Serbian and Italian businesses. It will soon celebrate its 20th anniversary. Which of the Chamber’s results are you the proudest of?
The Chamber of Commerce is a representative body, and I am very proud of our way of working created with other business associations and organizations, such as the Italian Embassy and Confindustria. This work is very demanding, and I think we are all great team players. We also have an administration team made up of excellent Italian and Serbian managers which gives the organization prestige and facilitates operations. Our shareholders’ growing interest can lead us to become a more developed and digitalized Chamber that can open new doors and represent a new opportunity for both nations.
Which institutions do you cooperate with? How can we further improve Italian-Serbian relations?
In Serbia, we collaborate with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia, but we also cooperate with numerous ministries in the Serbian government – Foreign Affairs, Labour, Environment, Culture, and Energy, as well as the customs and fiscal authorities. We have a great relationship with Maja Gojković, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Culture and Information. It is great to see how Italy isn’t viewed just as an economic partner but also as a cultural one, which makes our relations very genuine and something I am very proud of. There is always space for growth and our doors are open. Moreover, it is important to mention that when different sectors of one nation are developing, they don’t tend to always grow at the same pace, but as an Italian, I am very realistic and I know very well that no country is perfect, specifically in terms of bureaucracy and administration procedures, which can always be improved.
Our shareholders’ growing interest can lead us to become a more developed and digitalized Chamber that can open new doors and represent a new opportunity for both nations
What can Serbs learn from Italians and vice versa?
In my opinion, Serbs love the Italian lifestyle, therefore, they can learn from our artistic attractions, as well as our manufacturing tradition, which Italians have developed well. The 70-year-timespan after the Second World War has created a very strong country out of Italy in terms of management and know-how and this is something Serbs can learn from us seeing that they have a large variety of different opinions and views on company development. The main thing Italians can learn from Serbs is the joy of living, which is very much ingrained in the Italian culture already. However, Serbs have it at a higher level. Serbia is also a country of great structure, where influences from the Yugoslav era are still found in organizational structures. Something else Italians can learn from Serbs is precision. As a matter of fact, there are different interests in bilateral relations but in my opinion, it is always important to find win-win solutions.
As an Italian living and working in Serbia, what do you like about our country? What is it that makes you feel connected with Serbia, Novi Sad, and Belgrade?
I love Belgrade and Novi Sad since I was born and raised in Milan, a dynamic and innovative city. As a result, being surrounded by companies, shops, and people is something I am very much used to and like to be a part of. I also really enjoy its nature, as I love doing different types of sports and activities such as skiing and hiking in the mountains. I’ve visited many of the natural treasures including Zlatibor, Kopaonik, Tara, Šumadija, and others. I liked all of them a lot because they reminded me of some areas in Italy. In Vojvodina, on the other hand, I enjoy the cultural aspects. In the past seven years of living here, I learned how to appreciate this country which I first saw when I was quite young, in the 1970-1980s when I travelled across entire Yugoslavia. It left a nice mark on my memory. I am happy to live here.