Improving the work of the judiciary, promoting the rule of law, reducing corruption, accelerating digital transformation and more efficient public administration, as well as cooperation between public and private health care, are still key to economic recovery in 2022.
As a representative of some of the largest and most influential foreign and local enterprises in the country, AmCham Serbia possesses the capacity to serve as a powerful agent of change in Serbia’s process of economic development. Stefan Lazarević, the new president of AmCham Serbia, spoke about his priorities at the helm of the organization, recovery after the pandemic, challenges, but also about the role of Serbia in the region when it comes to US investments.
You have been recently elected President of AmCham Serbia. What will be your priorities in the coming period in terms of AmCham’s activities?
AmCham will remain consistent in its intention to support American and other investors in Serbia, as well as in supporting the Government in conducting reforms and creating a predictable, stable and attractive business environment. As a constructive partner, we will try to be a part of every conversation about improving the economic environment, as well as other topics related to attracting investments and adhering to the highest standards in all spheres of business.
We will certainly get involved in boosting regional initiatives, such as the Open Balkans Initiative. Although it currently includes only Serbia, Albania and North Macedonia, this initiative is inevitably a big step towards EU membership. It implies free movement of people, goods and services, and in a concrete everyday sense, it facilitates life and work for all of us in the region through e.g. mobility of employees, shorter retention of goods at borders, but also through deeper cooperation of companies in doing business in larger markets.
Our 10 committees will continue to carry on their activities. Through the work of these committees, we share best practices and define concrete initiatives, as well as projects such as AmChamps, which we are especially proud of because it is an important resource for new young future leaders.
If the last year was all about fighting COVID, 2022 will be the year of recovery, according to the latest forecasts. What expectations do the companies that are members of AmCham have for 2022?
Despite the pandemic, Serbia recorded a significant increase in economic activity in 2021. Higher employment and wage growth were also recorded, while the state maintained the stability of public finances and received more foreign direct investments, with a noticeable global rise in inflation, which of course, did not bypass Serbia either.
Based on research done before the Ukrainian crisis, business sector’s plans for growth are more positive compared to the previous year. As many as seven out of ten members of the American Chamber of Commerce expect an increase in the volume of their business and investments this year, while over half are planning hiring new people. Compared to the previous results, expectations regarding business growth are higher and reflect the plans for 2018 and 2019, but still slightly below the plans for 2020. We are now analyzing the effects and consequences of the Ukrainian crisis, as well as the way in which it will reflect the previously set expectations.
“Our 10 committees will continue to carry on their activities. Through the work of these committees, we share best practices and define concrete initiatives, as well as projects such as AmChamps”
Improving the work of the judiciary, promoting the rule of law, reducing corruption, accelerating digital transformation and more efficient public administration, as well as cooperation between public and private health care, are still key to economic recovery in 2022. We will continue to cooperate with the Serbian Government on all these demanding reforms, and I believe that we will soon see tangible results of this cooperation.
What are the most important conclusions of the research that you presented at the end of last year? What are your members’ expectations this year?
Over two-thirds of AmCham’s members rate the business climate as moderately favourable. As an investment destination, Serbia is better rated than Montenegro, Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, but worse than the neighbouring countries that are members of the European Union.
As in the previous two years, according to AmCham members, institutional reforms are still the most important, that is improving the work of the judiciary, promoting the rule of law and reducing corruption.
As a third priority, AmCham members mentioned the further development of eGovernment (which development so far has been favourably assessed) and further efforts to improve the efficiency of public administration. Compared to the previous two years, a more transparent and efficient public procurement system stands out as a slightly more important priority.
“As for the budget spending required for long-term growth, as in previous years, AmCham members give priority to investments in education”
As for the budget spending required for long-term growth, as in previous years, AmCham members give priority to investments in education. Compared to previous years, the need to invest in the environmental protection continues to be especially important, as do investments in health care, during the pandemic.
In terms of micro and small enterprises that are not members of AmCham, the priorities largely coincide, but further efforts to reduce the shadow economy and unfair competition are important to them.
What do you think will be the biggest challenges this year for both AmCham as an organization and its member companies?
Our economy has grown significantly in the past year, but apart from the effects of the pandemic that are unavoidalbe, AmCham members see the availability of workforce, institutional reforms, inflation, rising energy prices and supply chain issues as challenges.
In addition to this, we are closely monitoring the situation in Ukraine, which we believe will have an impact on the global economy, and then in the region and Serbia. We did a survey on the impact of the Ukrainian crisis among members, to be up to date with challenges and react in a timely manner, but it is still early to talk about the exact consequences, because estimates change daily.
“AmCham members see the availability of workforce, institutional reforms, inflation, rising energy prices and supply chain issues as challenges”
At the same time, we have a lot of work to do regarding the green agenda and climate change. The good news is that a large number of international companies from Western countries which operate in Serbia are already applying the best European and world practices, and this transfer of knowledge and experience will be of key importance for our rapid progress in this field.
The Western Balkans has been the focus of continued US engagement, investments and support for the past three decades. What role does Serbia play in the region in terms of American investments? In which segments can our two countries improve their cooperation?
The partnership between the United States and Serbia has been lasting for more than 140 years, and bilateral support for Serbia on its way to the EU membership has had a positive effect on attracting foreign investments.
American companies have so far invested over 4 billion euros in Serbia and currently employ more than 22,000 people. It is noticeable that the number of American investments in our country is growing year on year, and that American companies in our country feel good and are doing a very good job of further promoting Serbia as an investment destination. Serbia is the largest country in the region, which naturally has the largest influx of foreign investments. The arrival of American investors in the service and production sector is encouraging, despite the impact that the crisis has had on the volume of investments in the region and beyond. We believe that in the period ahead, there will be plenty of good reasons to talk about them.