During this term, we must finish the process of resolving the problems of companies that have not had their value raised for the market and focus on further improving the business climate, while giving a chance to the healthy segment of our economy. In translation, this means attracting investors and bolstering small and medium-sized enterprises.
The Serbian Government and the Economy Ministry are fast becoming better partners to businesses by creating institutional conditions for attracting new investments, developing the private sector and boosting the competitiveness of the domestic economy. To that end, the Ministry of the Economy will shift its focus from dealing with inefficient companies, which have been a burden on the country’s economy for far too long and are also undermining financial stability, to building up domestic companies which have proven themselves to be competitive and capable of adapting to the market game, as well as to attracting investors who have the existing support system at their full disposal. This system is devised in such a way that is tailor-made to all interested investors, starting with the Serbian Development Agency, which is the first stop for potential investors and local self-governments, all the way to the Economy Ministry and the Serbian government. “I believe that Greek investors will be interested in solidifying our cooperation under such conditions,” says Economy Minister Goran Knežević, adding “especially considering that the Greek private sector is still very strong and shows a pronounced interest in investing in areas like renewable energy sources, environmental protection and transportation.”
What are the most important reform moves that your Ministry will make in the period ahead?
Serbia is on an excellent path of economic renaissance, has been properly conducting economic reform and has opened its door to investors, as a result of stable fiscal policies. Our goal is to increase the investment volume in Serbia, to facilitate increased exports of Serbian products, to improve Serbia’s position in the world and to keep working on providing legal security and a level playing field for all stakeholders on the Serbian market and in its economic life. Although the previous period has seen us working on issues plaguing the companies that have been inefficient and unsustainable on the market for years, which, in turn, has had a significant impact on Serbia’s fiscal consolidation, we are adamant on finishing these processes during this government’s term.
What can the Ministry do to further improve the overall business climate?
Numerous studies have shown that the majority of foreign investors are satisfied with the business climate in Serbia. Businesspeople have told us that we should continue countering the shadow economy and focus more on e-government, as an avenue for providing services both to citizens and businesses. Great progress has been made in these segments. However, it is vitally important for the economic environment to resolve some inherited problems from the past. By doing so, we will be able to use more capacity, energy and funds on what can be called “the healthy segment of the Serbian economy,” i.e., on attracting investors, supporting SMEs and having a more efficient administration. All of this will contribute to improving Serbia’s ranking on the World Bank’s Doing Business list.
What can existing foreign investors in Serbia expect in terms of your Ministry’s activities?
Investors have shown great interest in investing in Serbia, as a result of our country moving towards EU membership, its strategically important position in this part of Europe, excellent results accomplished by the stable macroeconomic policy and strong political guidance. In the following period, the Ministry of the Economy will focus on improving existing tools for the promotion of both domestic and foreign investments, on eliminating unnecessary and complex administrative procedures, and on implementing the laws devised to advance the business environment. It is important to mention that we have declared 2016 as the Year of Entrepreneurship, which practically means that we are focusing on boosting the SME sector in order to, first and foremost, ensure the development of entrepreneurship and economic foundation, in addition to creating chains of suppliers and partners to investors in Serbia. We are also developing opportunities for public-private partnerships, which are still in their infancy here.
How would you rate trade cooperation with Greece?
I would say that the economic cooperation between Serbia and Greece, and especially trade between the two countries, as the dominant economic activity, has been characterised by stability, diversity and sustained growth since the year 2000. However, the pace of Greek investments slowed down significantly with the onset of serious recession in Greece. I am confident that we are going to work together to improve Greece’s image as an investor in Serbia.
Greek companies are active in almost all economic branches here. How much did Greek investments improve the business environment in Serbia?
Greek capital is present in various segments of the Serbian economy, but mostly in the banking sector. Apart from that, the biggest Greek investments were made in telecommunications, energy, infrastructure, agriculture, hospitality industry, retail etc.
Where do you see the greatest potential for the further development of economic cooperation with Greece?
Despite Greece suffering from the most severe financial crisis in its recent history, the Greek private sector still has big investment potential. Greek investors are mostly interested in infrastructure, energy (especially renewable energy resources), environmental protection and transport. Our two countries and nations have been nurturing a very close and sincere friendship. We have supported each other in difficult situations on many occasions, which is why I am confident that our two countries can find common economic interest through different formats of cooperation, like the Hellenic Plan.
Can you tell us something about upcoming investments and how interested Greek investors are in investing in Serbia?
As a result of expedited reforms in Serbia, we have created a favourable and attractive business environment, which is very important for new Greek investments – considering mutual interests and economic potential. The existing investor support system is devised in such way that it services all interested investors, starting with the Development Agency, which is the first stop for potential investors, and local self-governments, all the way to our Ministry and the Serbian Government.
You have hinted that the Ministry will be cooperating with the business community much more closely. What does this mean in practice, in terms of fostering a dialogue about laws and the practical implementation of regulations that affect businesses?
Owing to the dynamic dialogue that the Government has with the business community, a series of laws have been adopted which, in practice, ease business operations and make them even safer. For instance,, there is the Labour Law, which now better regulates labour issues, the Law on Inspection Oversight, which is now focusing more on prevention than sanctioning, and the Investment Law, which creates a safe framework for supporting investors. We are certainly going to continue implementing and improving these good practices, because the success of our policies is measured by the success of our economy and the satisfaction of our citizens.