OLIVER SAROV, Senior Policy Adviser for Economic Affairs & Trade, Embassy of the Netherlands: Investors Value Reform Efforts

The Serbian Government gave a clear signal in finding solutions to unlocking Serbia’s economic potential. Dutch investors are interested to enter the Serbian market, while the existing ones want to maintain and increase their presence

When I arrived to Serbia, in early 2015, the Government of Serbia had already embarked on an ambitious reform agenda to work towards solidifying stability, predictability and transparency and had just signed a stand-by agreement with the IMF. I’m glad to say that since then we’ve seen some significant results, ranging from a substantial macro-fiscal adjustment, to improvements in e-governance and construction permitting and other business friendly reforms”, says Oliver Sarov, Senior Policy Adviser for Economic Affairs & Trade, Embassy of the Netherlands. “Given the importance of each measure that is taken in the right direction, as well as the wide scope of sectors in which Dutch companies are active in, I wouldn’t want to single-out any policies. Rather, what has been important is the fact that there has been a clear signal that the Government recognizes the needs of the private sector and is committed to finding solutions to unlocking Serbia’s economic potential”, says Sarov. There is no need to say that investors from the Netherlands value stability, predictability and transparency, and value these efforts. They haven’t gone unnoticed: potential Dutch investors are interested to enter the Serbian market, while the existing ones want to maintain or increase their presence.

What does the experience of existing Dutch investors suggest when it comes to bottlenecks in doing business in Serbia?

As I mentioned, Dutch investors make strategic business decisions. In order to be able to make well-informed decisions, being able to acquire a clear picture of the necessary administrative and legal prerequirements, the involved costs and the amount of time and energy required is absolutely crucial, as is being able to depend on the uniform application of regulations and a quick and efficient judiciary system. Unfortunately, that can often prove more challenging than expected, especially for investors who are new to the region. Many of these bottlenecks can be alleviated by up-to-date information, whilst others require institutional and regulatory change. In that sense, I am glad to note several Government initiatives aimed at simplifying administrative procedures.

What do you see as key policies which would make the Serbian economy more conducive to growth of the domestic private sector?

We’ve already touched upon the positive effects of further simplifying administrative procedures, streamlining public services, increasing the efficiency of the judiciary and digitalization. In general, I would say that any policy which alleviates entrepreneurs of administrative burdens, and increases predictability and transparency so that entrepreneurs can focus on formulating business strategies and making sustainable decisions should be seen as a key policy for private sector growth. Apart from that, I strongly believe that formulating truly effective policies, can only be done through engaging in substantial, open and continuous public-private dialogue. Only through ongoing communication between all relevant stakeholders; local and central Governments, small and large enterprises and research and educational institutes throughout the country, can sustainable solutions be found. In fact, exactly that has been one of the keys to the success of the Dutch economy. I’m glad to see a similar practice developing in Serbia, with organizations such as the FIC, NALED and the Chamber of Commerce, just to name a few, actively participating in the formulation of economic policies and the implementation of reforms. Further strengthening and institutionalizing this practice will be key to unlocking Serbia’s significant economic potential.

What lessons might be taken from the Dutch experience when it comes to the support of the entrepreneurial spirit among young people?

Serbia has a significant amount of incredibly bright young people, with excellent ideas, many of whom have been able to leave their mark internationally and I feel privileged to be in contact with many of them on a regular basis. I’m also glad to see entrepreneurship hubs such as Impact Hub, Nova Iskra, StartIT and others flourishing. It shows that Serbia is full of energetic, savvy, dynamic and innovative people with strong ambitions. What is most important is that they are provided with the conditions they need to develop and implement heir innovative ideas. In the Netherlands, we have worked hard to understand what entrepreneurs need and to facilitate that as best we can – through public-private dialogue, tax incentives, subsidies and other policies. At the same time, schools provide classes that help young minds formulate and implement business ideas from a young age. As a result, most of my friends run their own businesses. I’m the odd one out, working in the public sector.

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