Together with the other participants in the Italian System in Serbia (the Italian Trade Agency, Italian-Serbian Chamber of Commerce and Confindustria Serbia), the Italian Embassy will continue to do its utmost to deepen the economic ties between the two countries despite the challenging times we live in
Serbian and Italian cooperation is extensive and keeps growing. In her interview, Fabiana Urbani, Head of the Economic and Commercial Office of the Italian Embassy in Belgrade, speaks about both Serbian and Italian economies, trade between the two countries, renewable energy and future cooperation.
The recently signed contract with Stellantis, which stipulates the production of electric cars in the FCA Serbia factory in Kragujevac, is certainly the largest and most important project not only in Serbia but also in the Western Balkans. How much will this project affect the development of the Serbian economy?
We warmly welcomed the announcement of the agreement between the Serbia Government and Stellantis, stipulating the production of a new model of an electric car at the FIAT factory in Kragujevac from 2024. This is a crucial investment for several reasons – it will be a driving force behind the economic relations between Italy and Serbia since a brand new FIAT vehicle will be produced in Kragujevac, it will put Serbia in the centre of the European revolution for smart and sustainable mobility, it will contribute to the country’s green transition and decarbonisation, thus helping reduce air pollution, and last but not least, it will create new jobs and expedite the development of the infrastructure required for electric mobility.
At a regional level, the above-mentioned contract will support the promotion of a smarter and cleaner transport network and the coal phase-out. It will also raise awareness among the Western Balkan citizens and help meet the environmental targets envisioned in the European Commission’s Green Deal, which estimates that a 90% reduction in transport emissions is needed by 2050 in order to achieve climate neutrality.
The value of trade between Italy and Serbia exceeded EUR 4 billion last year. Will such a trend continue this year too, given the crisis caused by the situation in Ukraine?
Indeed, in 2021 our bilateral trade hit a record 4.1 billion euros, more than in 2018 when it stood at 4 billion euros. The trend for the current year continues to be very encouraging – in the first quarter of 2022, the trade has already reached 1.1 billion euros in value, a 19% jump compared to the same period last year. Italy continues to be among the biggest foreign investors and main commercial partners of Serbia. Our companies (more than 600, operating all over Serbia in almost every economic branch – from banking and textile to agrifood and high-tech) continue to believe in the Serbian market and keep investing or expanding their business here.
“Last year, 8% of Serbia’s total imports came from Italy, which was the country’s second-largest supplier”
Despite the uncertainty caused by the war in Ukraine, as well as the global disruption of supply chains, we are confident that this new external shock could become an opportunity to further boost our economic relations, especially by tapping into the potential offered by the near-shoring trend and by using the tools created by the Italian Government to support internationalization, i.e. the Pact for Export launched by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Together with the other participants in the Italian System in Serbia (the Italian Trade Agency, Italian-Serbian Chamber of Commerce and Confindustria Serbia), the Italian Embassy will continue to do its utmost to deepen the economic ties between the two countries despite challenging times we live in.
Italian exports to Serbia increased by more than 20 percent in the previous year compared to 2020. What does Serbia import the most from Italy?
Last year, 8% of Serbia’s total imports came from Italy, which was the country’s second-largest supplier. In the first quarter of 2022, Serbia imported 609 million euros worth of goods from Italy, an increase of more than 20%. Serbia mostly imports machinery, vehicles, textiles and food. We are very proud of these figures, which reflect the extraordinary performance of the Italian export worldwide. Indeed, in 2021, we set a new, all-time record for Italian export – 516 billion euros.
Which kind of goods can Serbia export more to Italy?
Serbia mostly exports cars, leather footwear and metals to Italy. We have also registered a small increase in the export of maize and wheat. Serbian export grew by 17.3% (from 423 to 496 million euros) in the first quarter of 2022, so the trend is very positive, both when it comes to imports and export. On the other hand, Serbia is still little known in Italy, and this is a pity because you have great tourist potential, as well as great historical and artistic heritage. We also share a lot of cultural ties. For example, I am from Rome and I was impressed to discover that as many as 18 Roman emperors were born in Serbia, with Constantine the Great being the most renowned.
“Serbia mostly exports cars, leather footwear and metals to Italy. We have also registered a small increase in the export of maize and wheat”
I am confident that some of the latest events, like the participation of Konstrakta in the Eurovision song contest in Turin or the European Capital of Culture projects implemented in Novi Sad, will help bring Italians even closer to our Serbian friends.
A workshop titled ‘Belgrade – Investment and Development Opportunities’ was recently held in Rome. What opportunities does the capital of Serbia offer to companies from Italy?
According to the ‘Business-Friendly Cities Perception Index’ made by Emerging Europe, Belgrade ranked first as the city with the biggest economic potential. Indeed, most of the Italian companies in Serbia are concentrated in Belgrade thanks to its strategic position, its favourable and dynamic business environment and qualified workforce. Nevertheless, Italian enterprises operate all over the country and in a wide range of sectors. Also, our Embassy has been receiving a growing number of requests from Italian entrepreneurs interested in investing in this market, not only in Belgrade. This is another proof of the deep and sincere friendship that binds us.
A greater focus on renewable energy and digitalisation as investment opportunities has been announced. What specific projects can we implement in these segments?
We aim to actively contribute to the green and digital revolution that is taking place in Serbia. Renewables and IT are key sectors for our future bilateral relations and Italian companies can share a lot of expertise and know-how. Let me just mention Engineering Software Lab, an Italian company that has been present in Serbia since 2014 and is now planning to further expand its business here, or Fintel Energija, which has recently started constructing its fourth wind farm (together with MK Group) in the country.
“Our commercial ties are historically solid and our economic cooperation is very well rooted, intense and diversified”
I would also like to underline the Italian commitment to sustainable and smart agriculture, as shown by the large-scale participation of 24 Italian companies in the International Agricultural Fair in Novi Sad, in late May. Lastly, Italy contributes more than 53 million EUR to the CEI Fund, mainly providing grant-type technical assistance to EBRD projects in the segments such as sustainability, energy efficiency and digital transformation.
What kind of economic cooperation between Serbia and Italy do you expect to see this year?
Our commercial ties are historically solid and our economic cooperation is very well rooted, intense and diversified. Moreover, the Italian business community is well integrated into the local communities and it always aims at contributing to their development and prosperity. At the same time, we know that the positions we have occupied so far should not be taken for granted, which is why we aim at taking our strategic partnership to a higher level, investing in new sectors and increasing the opportunities for mutual business. Also, the resumption and more frequent direct flights between the two countries will help. We want to further enhance mutually beneficial economic cooperation and strengthen our strategic partnership.