The German-Serbian relations, both political and economic, commercial and investment related, which have been at their maximum in the last two decades, as our country has been progressing towards the EU membership, can only grow stronger. On this path, we particularly value the support and bolstering of cooperation with German companies, financial organizations and institutions
Encouraged by the good experiences of large German companies that have already invested in Serbia, employ close to 60,000 workers and hire Serbian companies as suppliers, small and medium-sized companies from Germany are beginning to be interested in our market. Marko Čadež, President of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia (CCIS), had the opportunity to talk about this topic in Berlin, at meetings at the German Association of German Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (BVMW) and the Association of Family Enterprises.
When can we expect the German SMEs to come here?
The growing interest of German SMEs provides more proof that our economic relations are at a mature stage and that Serbia is recognized as a safe, stable and stimulating destination for investments by not only multinational companies that are the first to enter new markets, but also by those companies which are more cautious by nature. What contributed to this are successful stories told by big German investors in Serbia, the progress made in improving the economic environment, but also the activities of the Chamber of Commerce of Serbia, which, in cooperation with the German partner organizations, is dedicated to promoting the investment and export potential of our economy in the German market. Together with the German Association of German Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (BVMW), we have agreed to organize a visit of a large delegation of small and medium-sized companies interested in investing in Serbia during the first half of this year, to get further acquainted with the business conditions, investment opportunities and experiences of German companies in the Serbian market. The potential for cooperation with BVMW is sufficiently illustrated by the fact that this business association, along with 300 regional and local offices and around 40 representative offices worldwide, assembles as many as 1.1 million German SMEs with partner organizations to support day-to-day business and business networking with domestic and foreign partners. There are also great opportunities for cooperation with the Association of Family Enterprises, which is the focal point for large German family-run companies that generate annual sales in excess of € 50 million, as well as for small and medium-sized enterprises. 500 largest companies in Germany support the activities of this association.
During Prime Minister Brnabić’s visit to Germany, you also had discussions with the digital association BITKOM. What are the conclusions of that meeting and what are the opportunities for cooperation with German ICT companies?
The partnership between Serbian businesses and German high-tech companies, including companies in the ICT sector, is becoming an increasingly important topic for us in the context of the 4th industrial revolution, of which Germany is one of the driving forces. Germany has been the largest investor in the manufacturing sector so far, and an increasing number of its high-tech companies are opting to open research and development centres in Serbia, in addition to factories and plants. The domestic ICT sector, as the fastest-growing segment of the Serbian economy, gives a particular advantage and provides great support in attracting hightech investments. Serbia already has a significant comparative advantage and a surplus in trading in services with the world, with IT services leading the way. Germany is our biggest external trade partner, not only in terms of value, whereby the value of the external trade exceeds 5 billion euro but also in trading in services. Last year, the value of trading in services amounted to 1.128 billion euro, of which Serbian exports to the German market amounted to 750 million euro, twice as much as imports. We want to see the Serbian digital community, which potential is recognized worldwide and which products are used globally, to better position itself in the German service market, but also to establish higher levels of cooperation and partnerships with the developed German ICT sector. The talks we had at BITKOM opened the door for investments and collaboration between our high-tech companies and the IT startup community with the members of this association, i.e. more than 2,600 German companies in the digital economy sector, including SMEs and startups, about 1,500 of them, but also a large number of global stakeholders in hardware and software, telecommunications and Internet services, digital media, etc.
In the past four years, the CCIS has organized business forums with the participation of businesspeople from German provinces, and such events will take place this year too.
Following the business forums held in the provinces of Hesse, Baden-Württemberg and North Rhine-Westphalia in recent years, Serbia will present itself in Bavaria this year, the province with which we have the biggest external trade and from which large companies/investors, such as Siemens, Leoni, Draxlmaier, Grammer, Wacker Neuson, Meggle and Muhlbauer, came to do business in Serbia. In cooperation with OWWF Bayern, we will organize a forum in Munich to present to Bavarian companies business and investment opportunities in Serbia. B2B meetings of our and Bavarian businesspeople will add a special quality to the event. We are preparing another business forum, but this time in Serbia. In June, a large business delegation from North Rhine-Westphalia will come from Germany. This will be another opportunity for our business people to have business meetings with companies from one of Germany’s most economically strong provinces and the first German industrial region. Last year, about one hundred Serbian companies participating in German trade fairs made more than 4,000 contacts and signed over 40 preliminary and final contracts. This year, Serbian businesses participated in six international fairs in Germany, with the help from the CCIS. In addition to the Fruitlogistica Fruit and Vegetables Fair in Berlin, Biofach Organic Food Fair and Embedded World fair of integrated electronics in Nuremberg in February, our companies will present themselves to their German and partner companies at the Prowein wines and alcoholic beverages fair in Dusseldorf, Hannover Messe Techniques and the Automechanica, an automotive industry trade fair, in Frankfurt.
Why is Serbia so appealing to German companies in terms of investing?
First and foremost, because of the experiences and recommendations of the German companies which already do business here. As many as 88 per cent of German companies surveyed said they would reinvest their capital in Serbia because Serbia provides German investors with exactly what they need to invest and make a profit – stability, a stimulating business climate, quality workforce and reliable local companies. Companies that invest capital here can form companies in a much simple manner, obtain construction permits faster, and operate easier and cheaper than anywhere in the region. They have lower operating costs than in competing locations and have a whole set of financial incentives – tax and customs benefits, government subsidies and benefits provided by municipalities and cities. They transport goods to customers via the shortest route – European corridors, and thanks to free trade agreements, they export duty-free from here to markets with more than 1.4 billion consumers worldwide. Apart from the quality suppliers waiting for them here, the fact that they can rely on the local businesses and incorporate our companies in their supply chains, Serbia’s special trump card in attracting investors is its people. Those German companies that took part in the survey, i.e. members of the German-Serbian Chamber of Commerce, are satisfied with the productivity and motivation employees here, as well as their qualifications and the quality of their academic education. Dual education in Serbia was also highly commended by the German companies, with the dual education here resembling the one in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Dual education in our country has raised the quality and availability of our workforce.
Last year, the German Economy and Energy Minister, Peter Altmaier visited Serbia. How important is this visit for our relations with Germany?
The visit of the Minister of Economy of the most developed European economy to Serbia is of particular importance both politically and economically. Besides the importance of political messages sent by Minister Altmaier which reflect the official Berlin’s support for the regional and European integrations of Serbia and the Western Balkans, in economic terms, this visit is another proof of clearly expressed German willingness to further boost our bilateral economic ties. Moreover, the highlight of this visit was the signing of an investment agreement between the German companies MTU Aero Engines AG and Brose Group, which will make a 300-million-euro worth of investments in Serbia.
Through development projects, Germany provides strong financial and professional support to Serbia precisely in the areas which are at the top priorities of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia. How important is this support to you?
Through the development assistance projects, the German government has supported the key points in the agenda of the Chamber of Commerce of Serbia, as a business organization, namely further developing the private sector, introducing and developing dual education and improving the labour market to meet the needs of businesses, establishing and operating a Centre for Digital Transformation of the Economy, boosting competitiveness, bigger internationalization of our companies and stronger regional integration. This support is significant to us both financially and also because we can learn from the best. With the transfer of the German knowhow, experience, and contacts, and with the generous professional help of German partners, we can use all of that to build the capacities of our economy and improve business conditions.
How will our bilateral relations with Germany develop in the next few years?
In a few years, I see Serbia on the threshold of the European Union, and in five years, I believe as a member of the European Union. This will send out a great signal and create additional security for politicians, potential investors and buyers of our products from Germany and the rest of the world, to establish new partnerships with us. Given the fact that, in the past ten years, since 2009, we have increased our trade with Germany by 2.6 and exports to the German market 3.5 times and that we have attracted almost 500 German investors so far, then, in a few years, with strengthened capacities, we will be even more competitive, and while operating in the common regional market become well-prepared for the European single market. As such we will become better and more reliable partners to others.