“Confindustria Serbia is proud to have close to 170 member companies in Serbia, of which 60% are manufacturing companies.”
Irena Brajović – Director of Confindustria Serbia
DC met with the Director of Confindustria Serbia, Irena Brajović between meetings and her numerous obligations. The previous year was good for Confindustria and 2020 is likely going to be even better. At the recent meeting of Confindustria Serbia’s Assembly, the keys to the association were, figuratively speaking, handed over to the new leadership. Ms Brajović says the new team is made up of truly exceptional businessman and professionals who, in addition to actively contributing to the success of their respective companies, are also contributing a lot to the Association’s operations.
— We started this year with an important event for the Association – the meeting of the Assembly members of Confindustria Serbia. The meeting brought together a large number of industrialists working in Serbia, representatives of institutions, guests from Italy and our colleagues from the Association. The President of the Veneto region was also present, which is very important to us because Veneto is one of the most developed regions in Italy and important for Serbia,” Irena Brajović says at the beginning of the interview.
What are the plans of Confindustria with the new leadership at the helm?
— Bolstering our organization is one of the crucially important plans, as is boosting the strategic relationships we have with all economic representatives here. The organization will continue to insist on the legislative framework and digitization. We will, of course, continue to promote Serbia in Italy. Last year, we had seven promotions of Serbia as an investment destination. In the coming period, our focus will be on the food industry and ecology. We see great potential in these branches. When I say “the food industry”, I, first and foremost, mean agricultural machines and technologies, bio-treatments, etc. The Serbian market is familiar with Italian technology, both in price and quality.
You mentioned the Veneto district, where many investors who came to Serbia originate from. It is typical of Italian investors that they also bring new technologies and experiences once they invest in a foreign country? What can Serbian companies learn from them?
— These companies, first and foremost, are making new investments, which means, above all, hiring people here. This is what everyone loves to hear. And, with all of that, as you said, comes new technology, organizational models that affect business efficiency and entrepreneurial culture, all of which has made Italy one of the leading economies of the world, even today, when Italy is undergoing reorganization. This is a reminder of the fact that Italy is the sixth or seventh largest economy in the world today. We, as an association, do a lot of work to promote all this, mainly good practices and benefits. I should note that only mutual benefits count. Italian companies have found a good business environment here and a good business climate that tends to constantly improve. Of course, the dynamics are not always what they would expect. I am referring to legislation that they expect to move fast as in the European Union. In addition to being a strong economy, Italy is also a good business partner for Serbia, if not one of the greatest.
How can we progress further and in what areas?
— I would certainly mention ecology, in its broadest sense. We, as an association, have been working on this course for the last year, but I should also mention that we are one of the pioneers in this field because we were among the first to call for public dialogue. Italy is experiencing great success in the green economy segment. The European Commission’s latest decision on major investments benefits us, as it will mark a major shift in terms of sustainability and economic development. Italy does not have abundant natural resources and has therefore been focusing on using everything that is considered a natural resource and thus utilizes the benefits of the circular economy.
Why do Italian companies choose to invest in Serbia?
— The factors of their arrival have changed over the years. When the first investors came in early 2000, the business environment and logistical factors were important to them. Also, there were austerity factors because our country had reasonable prices. I must underline that we, as an association, always point out that Serbia has trained not cheap workforce. We have never communicated that we are a land of cheap labour. That is not a real and sustainable model which Serbia needs to develop. We are a land of capable people who have great potential. We are near other markets and provide opportunities to export to a big consolidated market thanks to free trade agreements. Great savings are made due to the logistical advantages and proximity of the countries themselves. That’s why companies are opting to come to Serbia, instead of going to a remote destination. We should not forget that we are a country that once had a strong industrial tradition that we are now slowly reinstating.
How important is dual education for business people?
— It is extremely important. Confindustria has supported the implementation of dual education, but we expect the more effective implementation of the Dual Education Law and perhaps new solutions that are not contained in the present regulation. These are the first tentative steps and we expect new solutions and modifications to be made in the dialogue between the state and employers. Labour shortages and deficiencies in the system and/or labour laws will pose a challenge in the coming years. The law needs to change since it does not benefit workers or employers. We will need a common consensus in this dialogue.
You advocate digitization of production processes. How important is that?
— We have been insisting on this topic for five years through various events and initiatives. Digitization in Italy almost resembles a movement led by companies to be able to compete in the global market. Through their experience and our conferences what we learned is that digitization itself cannot be easily understood and implemented with equal speed in all industrial sectors. The benefits of digitization are numerous – for businesses, for working conditions, for data analysis and the competitiveness of companies.
Confindustria is one of the largest business associations in the world. How distinguished is to be a part of it and are you satisfied with the Association’s operations in Serbia?
— We have been carrying the Italian flag from the very beginning, so to speak, with all the challenges that came along when the Italian industry set out to invest outside the country. That road has not been easy, but it is now proving to be a path to sustainability and a guaranteed future. We are proud that we have such a lot of members in Serbia, close to 170 companies, of which 60% are manufacturing companies. The first companies to come here were from the textile and footwear industries. According to our information, the machine-building sector is very present today and at this moment, it may give Serbia special value. This is a sector that relies on local suppliers and is, generally speaking, a model of the Italian economy here in Serbia. Italian employers want to include local companies as suppliers.