JELENA JOVANOVIĆ, Director of the International Economic Relations Sector at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia (CCIS): ECONOMIC RECOVERY BRINGS GREATER SCOPE OF COOPERATION

Greece has been traditionally an important economic partner of Serbia. The dominant form of economic cooperation
between the two countries is trade in goods which is characterized by stability, diversity and almost constant growth from 2000 to 2009, the year when the global crisis started. Serbian exports to Greece entered the stagnation period in 2012 as a result of a decline in demand for Serbian raw materials in the turbulent Greek market.

According to the data collated by the Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia, in the first six months of 2018, the value of the total external trade in goods with Greece amounted to 234.5 million euro. In the same period, the exports amounted to 80.3 million euro, and remained at the same level as in the first six months of the
previous year. Greece ranks 24th on the list of the countries which Serbia exports too, with a share of 1% in total Serbian exports. In the first six months of 2018, the value of imports amounted to 154.2 million euro and grew by 10.6%. In terms of import, Greece occupies the 22nd place out of all the countries that Serbia imports from, with a 15% share in total Serbian imports. In the observed period, the export to import ratio was 52%.

We are talking to Jelena Jovanović, Director of the International Economic Relations Sector at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia (CCIS), about how economic trends influence the investments and trade relations beween the two countries.

What kind of consequences did the Greek economic ‘eartquake’ have on the influx of Greek investments in Serbia and the structure of the Greek companies doing business in Serbia?

— In terms of the economic cooperation between the two countries, the economic crisis in Greece was mostly felt in the investment segment. The crisis has left the greatest consequences on both the influx of new Greek investments and the efflux of existing Greek investments from Serbia. After 2010, Greece has been gradually withdrawing its capital from our country, and in the period from 2010 to 2017, there was an efflux of financial resources from
Serbia to Greece in the amount of close to 210.6 million euro (which was the largest recorded efflux of funds from Serbia by a certain country). Greece used to be one of the largest investors in Serbia. The total value of the investments was about 2.2 billion euro (according to NBS data with the added NBS assessment of the influx of funds that came from the accounts of Greek companies in Cyprus), and they were mostly implemented in the privatization process, through greenfield investments and joint ventures. The largest number of investments was realized in the banking sector, in the period before the crisis, namely until 2008. Due to the financial crisis in Greece and the pressure from the current government’s anti-crisis measures, the Greek state capital is no longer directed to foreign countries, and consequently to Serbia. On the other hand, Greek private capital will certainly seek new ways to multiply in search for alternative markets and profitable investment projects.

Which products dominate the trade between the two countries and are there any new products that are added to this trade in line with the development of industry and FDI in Serbia?

— In the first six months of this year, the leading products that Serbia exported to Greece were: ice cream which does not contain any milk fat or contains less than 3% milk fat; paper and cardboard coated in plastic; bags and plastic bags; cathodes and sections of refined copper cathodes; tires (outer, pneumatic, new tires for passenger vehicles); polyethylene in primary forms of the density greater than 0.94; collapsible boxes made from non-corrugated paper or cardboard; other types of paper and cardboard (multilayered, with the outer layer bleached), bottled water (flat and fizzy, with added sugar) and dog & cat food (source: Serbian Statistical Office). Also in the first six months of this year, the leading products that Serbia imported from Greece were: non-classified goods, according to the customs classification – goods in storage; steel concrete; expanded polystyrene in primary forms; panels and logs of aluminum alloys; polyethylene terephthalate; tobacco (veined, oriental, sun dried); bars; TV sets; pulleys; profiles (hollow, made of aluminum alloy); and fresh oranges (source: Serbian Statistical Office).

Where lies the untapped potential for expanding the current cooperation?

— Generally speaking, the sectors that have the biggest potential for cooperation, not including the banking sector which saw the biggest Greek investments, are also telecommunications, energy, infrastructure, agriculture, hotel industry, and retail trade. According to Greek business people, Serbia has a great potential for attracting foreign
investments, especially in tourism, energy and construction. They also say that Serbia has comparative advantages for the development of tourism, namely a good geographical position, professional people and good managers, rich culture and tradition, and low tax rates.

Two years ago, at the Serbia-Greece Business Forum, the CCIS and the Chamber of Commerce of Thessaloniki signed a cooperation protocol. What are the results of this cooperation?

— We can draw almost the same conclusion from all these meetings that focus on improving the economic cooperation between Serbia and Greece which is that the business people from both countries have expressed an interest to cooperate and that it is up to institutions to try to regain the level of economic cooperation that Serbia and Greece had between 2000 and 2010, when it was the highest, both in terms of investments and external trade.

What are the common topics that interest Greek and Serbian business people?

— Greek investors have expressed the strongest interest in – the food and beverage industry, infrastructure, energy, environmental protection and transport. Also, they showed interest in investing in the energy and renewable energy sector (Aktor, Terna, etc.). Furthermore, Greek business people are increasingly interested in establishing and strengthening cooperation in the field of organic products, tourism and innovation (technology transfer, etc.).
There is a great potential for improving trade cooperation between the two countries which is currently at a relatively low level. The fact that certain Greek and Serbian products are sold at the Delhaize (Maxi) and Veropoulos (Super Vero) supermarkets, which were managed by the Greeks who had a strong business interest in marketing products from Serbia in Greece and vice versa, has contributed to the promotion of the cooperation in the
last few years. Legally regulating public-private partnerships creates opportunities for joint projects, funded by our state and the Greek private capital in projects like construction of main roads (primarily those on the Corridor 10) and the ancillary infrastructure (motels, shopping malls, restaurants, etc.).

How would you rate the cooperation between chambers of commerce from the two countries? Which problems have they been trying to resolve together?

— The cooperation between the chambers of commerce from Serbia and Greece, both bilateral and multilateral, as well as the cooperation with other institutions and associations in Greece is very successful and constant. We have an active cooperation in multilateral forums such as the Association of European Chambers, the Association of
Mediterranean Chambers, the Association of Balkan Chambers and the Black Sea Economic Cooperation. The Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia has signed a cooperation agreement with the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI Athens) and the Hellenic Foreign Trade Board (HEPO, Athens). Our chamber of commerce and the Thessaloniki Chamber of Small and Medium Sized Industries signed a cooperation agreement in December 2016. The Belgrade Chamber of Commerce has signed a cooperation agreement with the Athens Chamber of Small and Medium Sized Industries, as did the Regional Chamber of Commerce Niš with TCCI Thessaloniki, and the Regional Chamber of Commerce Leskovac with the Athens Chamber of Small and Medium Sized Industries, the Chamber of Commerce of Kavala and the Chamber of Commerce of Larissa.

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