It makes us very satisfied to see the volume of external trade between the two countries increase year on year. I would agree with some reports stating that job creation and green transformations are common goals and challenges for all countries in the Western Balkans region
Reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, managing an energy transition, putting in place a circular economy, supporting the protection of biodiversity and advancing sustainable farming and food production-these domains can represent an excellent basis for the know-how and technology transfers.
Which agencies your office in Belgrade is representing?
Our office represents three Belgian regional agencies specializing in trade promotion, so in a way, we are the eyes and the ears of Belgian companies interested in Serbia. Although officially we are the representative office of the Brussels Agency for Business Support – hub.brussels https://hub.brussels/en/, we also represent the Wallonia Export-Investment Agency -AWEX https://www.awex-export.be/ and Flanders Investment and Trade https://www.flandersinvestmentandtrade.com/en. As Belgium is a small market, the three Belgian regions have come together to facilitate the task of companies that want to go international by implementing a network of contact points all over the world. The Brussels Agency for Business Support is the result of the union of Atrium, Brussels Invest & Export, and Impulse Brussels and it offers a wide range of free advice, services, and tools wheatear you want to start or develop your business, set up your company in Brussels or export your goods and services. Also, hub. Brussels has made economic transition its overall objective, as we would like to ensure that the economy serves the citizens and represents an actor of positive social change.
Economic cooperation between Belgium and Serbia is very good. Where do you see room for the improvement of this cooperation?
It makes us very satisfied to see the volume of external trade between the two countries increase year on year. Even in 2020, the external trade between Serbia and Belgium remained steady, despite a global shock to the world economy caused by the covid19 pandemic. The same goes for this year. Of course, there is always room to improve and step up our economic cooperation. Belgium, despite its size, has developed an open, highly competitive, and internationally oriented economy. Belgian exports amount to more than 80% of the national GDP. According to the latest WTO data, Belgium is the 10th largest exporting country in the world.
“Belgian investors are involved in various fields, such as metal processing, food processing, renewable energy, construction, retail, chemical industry, and IT”
Currently, the most exported products from Belgium to Serbia are various chemicals, plastics as well as machinery and equipment, but there are many other areas where the cooperation can be improved. As a leader in a variety of sectors, Belgium has plenty to offer to Serbian companies. Following the EU- Western Balkan Brdo Summit, a detailed action plan has been agreed with the Western Balkan countries for the implementation of the ambitious goals of the Green Agenda: reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, managing an energy transition, putting in place a circular economy, supporting the protection of biodiversity and advancing sustainable farming and food production. In all fields, Belgium has a lot of experiences to share with Serbia, so these domains can represent an excellent basis for the know-how and technology transfers. The same applies for IT, innovative or creative sectors, that also offer room for further improvement of cooperation.
Business people from the two countries have met several times in recent years. When is planned the next meeting?
Some of our main goals are to bring business communities of the two countries closer together, to increase the interest of Belgian entrepreneurs for the advantages of the Serbian market and to highlight various business prospects that exist here. Belgian companies sometimes need some extra encouragement to explore markets that are not directly nearby, so every year we organize events that help Belgian companies to learn more about Serbia as a business destination. Together with our local partners like the Serbian Chamber of Commerce or the Belgian Serbian Business Association or various Serbian institutions and ministries, we organize different events: incoming business delegations, B2Bs, presentations, seminars, and conferences etc. Of course, in these challenging times with the COVID-19 pandemic still not being over, we use the advantages of digitalization and organize a lot of online events. In 2021 we have organized very successful virtual B2Bs events in various sectors such as food and pharmaceuticals, we had a very successful online participation of the Brussels Regional Informatics Centre (BRIC) https://bric.brussels/ at this year’s SmartCity Festival, but we also managed to have an ‘old fashioned’ offline visit of 5 Belgian horticulture companies that visited potential local partners. In December, we plan a webinar to present opportunities that the environmental sector in Serbia can offer to Belgian companies and we also hope to have an incoming multi-sectorial business delegation in March 2022, offline or online, we will see.
How satisfied are the Belgian investors with conditions for doing business; and what should be improved in Serbia to attract more investors?
A predictable and stable business environment is a prerequisite for investment. In recent years, Serbia has taken important steps in creating a stable platform for the country’s economic development and stimulating investment environment. Belgian investments in Serbia are very diversified. Belgian investors are involved in various fields, such as metal processing, food processing, renewable energy, construction, retail, chemical industry, and IT. They are satisfied with the current situation, but there are also areas for improvement: strengthening the rule of law, increasing transparency, and reducing red tape. These improvements would not only increase the confidence of Belgian or other foreign investors in Serbia, but more importantly, they would bring benefits to local companies.
What kind of effect Covid-19 crisis will have on companies, including Belgian companies in Serbia, and what will be the major challenges in 2022?
The year 2020 was a pandemic year for the whole world since COVID-19 affected everyone and resulted in an unprecedented economic contraction all over the world. Companies faced different challenges, and they had to re-adjust their business organization, to quickly adapt to the new “normal”. The same situation was with Belgian companies in Serbia.
“In December, we plan a webinar to present opportunities that environmental sector in Serbia can offer to Belgian companies”
They had to respond quickly to the crises, to be well-coordinated, and full of boldness and imagination. Even though covid19 had a significant impact on doing business, Belgian companies in Serbia managed to overcome various difficulties and continue working, sometimes even expanding their activities. In 2020, thanks to a robust fiscal stimulus program, Serbia experienced only a mild recession. According to the World Bank, the growth rate is expected to reach 6 % in 2021 and about 4 % over the medium term. However, risks related to recovery in Europe, and globally, as well as rising COVID-19 cases, could impact this positive outlook.
Export to Belgium
Which products and services can Serbia offer to the demanding Belgian market?
Largely open to foreign trade, Belgium has a sophisticated distribution system and well-developed infrastructure, which has attracted many foreign companies. In return, Belgium has developed a highly competitive market. Serbia was the 77th supplier of Belgium in 2020, so there is room for improvement. Last year, the most imported group of products from Serbia to Belgium were food, textile, machinery and equipment, but I believe there are various other sectors that offer opportunities for Serbian companies. The Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia has its office in Belgium and plays an important role in supporting Serbian companies in their appearance on the Belgian market.