Serbia is a modern, innovative and resilient country, ready to tackle crises. It is important to present our know-how and experience of ideas, as well as to establish cooperation and utilize business opportunities.
Serbia’s participation in the World Exhibition Dubai (EXPO for short) provides a unique opportunity to present Serbia as an innovative and modern country, all with the end goal of further developing our economy, attract foreign investments and create dynamic business opportunities for our business people. The Expo is being held at a time when the world is still struggling with the pandemic and its negative effects. In that fight, Serbia proved to be a resilient, stable and innovative country, especially when it comes to our success in vaccination roll out and achieved economic stability.
The Government of the Republic of Serbia has adopted the Strategy for the Development of the Information Society and Information Security. What key measures and activities have been defined in the Strategy and what does the strategy mean for Serbia?
The Strategy for the Development of the Information Society and Information Security in the Republic of Serbia for the period from 2021 to 2026 is a cross-sectoral strategy which determines the goals and measures for the development of the information society and information security.
As the title suggests, the Strategy covers two important areas, namely the information society and information security, the further development of which is a prerequisite for the complete digitalization of our society.
The areas of information society and information security are comprehensive and imply application in almost all segments and activities on which the development of an economy and society is based, and at the same time, they relate to citizens, public administration and the economy of a country. Information systems are an indispensable part of the work done by public administration and businesses, and in order for these systems to have an adequate security level, it is necessary to protect devices, networks, and data, but also organizations and individuals.
Accordingly, as a general goal, which is pursued through the Strategy’s implementation, is to have the developed information society and e-government in the service of citizens and businesses, as well as improved information security of citizens, public administration and the business sector.
Namely, the adoption and implementation of a strategic information society development and information security document is important to continue with the further improvement of digital knowledge and skills of all citizens, while boosting the capacity of employees in both public and private sectors to use new technologies and improving the digital infrastructure in educational institutions, as well as to step up the activities related to digitalization of services and business in the public and private sectors and to increase the information security of citizens, public administration and businesses.
“Recently adopted Strategy covers two important areas, namely the information society and information security”
For a society to progress through the digitalization of all its segments, it is necessary to build trust, raise knowledge levels and create a safe environment that has a stimulating effect on citizens for them to recognize the benefits of digitalization and electronically provided services which is the goal pursued through the implementation of the strategy and accompanying action plans.
The Strategy and Action Plan that will be implemented from 2021 to 2023 define numerous measures and activities for the realization of special goals. However, we should underline that, in addition to the measures and activities defined by the Strategy and Action Plan, the Government of the Republic of Serbia drafted other strategic documents that define in more detail the areas that are important for digitalization and those that relate to e-government, digital skills, smart specializations, artificial intelligence, etc.
In which way is Serbia committed to developing digital infrastructure and regulations in the field of electronic communications, digital services and the digital society?
The number of adopted strategic documents that cover those segments best shows the commitment of the Republic of Serbia to the development of digital infrastructure and regulations. Specifically, in addition to the Strategy for the Development of the Information Society and Information Security, the Government of the Republic of Serbia has also adopted the following documents: Law on Electronic Administration, Law on Electronic Document, Electronic Identification and Trust Services in Electronic Business, Strategy for the Development of New Generation Networks (valid until 2023), Digital Skills Development Strategy, Artificial Intelligence Development Strategy, Industrial Policy Strategy of the Republic of Serbia, Smart Specialization Strategy, Strategy for Combating High-tech Crime, Electronic Government Development Programme.
So, there are several acts that have already been adopted which regulate specific areas that are an integral part of digitalization, such as the development of digital skills, artificial intelligence and its potential to improve the quality of life of each individual and society as a whole, and last but not least, smart specialization aimed at boosting the competitiveness of the economy, economic growth and progress of society by connecting research, industrial and innovation forces and resources and enabling domestic companies to more efficiently use their potential and better position themselves in global markets.
“We believe that the Serbian telecommunications market is extremely developed and competitive”
In the previous period, the Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications, as the line ministry for electronic business, enabled further development of trust services and electronic identification schemes thanks to the implementation of the Law on Electronic Document, Electronic Identification and Trust Services in Electronic Business. Through the development of trusted services and the use of qualified signatures and seals, especially remote signatures, we facilitate faster and more efficient business and easier and safer access to the services provided by public authorities and other entities electronically, as well as access to a higher number these services.
What is the situation in the tourism sector in 2021 like and how long will it take for the Serbian tourism to completely recover?
The tourism sector has been hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic. 2019, which was a record-breaking year, we had 10 million overnight stays, while the latest data show that we had over 8.7 million overnight stays in Serbia and over 2 million arrivals, which exceeded all our expectations and is a great success. When it comes to foreign currency revenue generated by tourism, it is 40% higher than in the previous year, and we hope that, once the epidemiological situation becomes better, this revenue will grow by the year-end.
These official data show a significant recovery and gradual growth of tourist visits this season, but in order for this trend to continue and for the autumn and winter seasons to become equally successful, we need a stable epidemiological situation and return to normal when it comes to travel and tourism activities. At present, this is only possible if a large percentage of people are vaccinated.
How do you assess the situation on the Serbian telecommunications market, but also the increasingly fierce competition between telecom operators?
We believe that the Serbian telecommunications market is extremely developed and competitive, and this is supported by the fact that in addition to the state-owned mobile operator in Serbia, two other mobile operators from large European groups covering dozens of countries (A1 and Telenor, owned by PPF) operate here. Over 99% of households in Serbia have the option of 4G access, which is significantly better than coverage in many European Union countries.
When it comes to ground telephony operators, in recent years was saw market consolidation taking place which is both justified and logical business-wise, but we also have a situation whereby the vast majority of people living in urban areas can choose between at least 2 or 3 operators.
“In the commerce sector, we will continue to contribute to boosting fair market competition and creating a greater offer of retail chains”
Regarding the coverage in rural areas, the Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications is implementing an incentive programme that, during its first phase which ends in late 2022, will cover 400-600 smaller towns and villages and over 80,000 households and provide them with unhindered access to all modern and most demanding services such as fast Internet connection speed. A total of five electronic communications operators (Telekom Srbija, SBB, A1, SatTrakt and Orion Telekom) participated in the launched competitions.
As the Serbian Commissioner General at Expo 2020 – Dubai, you presented the Serbian Pavilion at the World Exhibition. How important is Serbia’s participation in Expo Dubai?
The World Expo is the first global event since the outbreak of the pandemic. That is why it is a unique opportunity for all countries, including Serbia, to present their technological and industrial innovations and achievements, talented people and successful scientists, and their success in digitalization, in addition to economic, business and investment opportunities, rich history and culture and tourism potential.
The main goal of Serbia’s participation in the Expo is aimed at creating and developing a business network for our business community and creating a positive image of a modern and innovative state, plus to show ourselves as a partner in solving global problems. The World Exhibition in Dubai is an opportunity to send a strong message to the world about the potential of modern and innovative Serbia, with the possibility of realizing new business, but also of boosting political and economic ties. We view Serbia’s participation in Dubai Expo 2020 as an investment in our future and development and our good economic and political relations with the whole world, considering that 192 countries are participating in the Expo. We already have excellent political and economic relations with the country that organizes the Expo.
What are the Ministry’s plans by the year-end, considering that elections will take place in April 2022?
Our plans are unchanged despite the election year ahead. We will continue with the consolidation of the tourism sector, which has suffered the biggest blow due to the COVID-induced crisis, next to the transport sector. First and foremost, we will focus on strengthening and preserving human resources in this industry, and then we will continue to invest in key infrastructure projects, primarily those related to the development of nautical tourism, which was unfairly neglected in the previous period. In the telecommunications sector, we will continue with the development of the broadband Internet in the rural areas in Serbia, as well as with the completion of the construction of a local computer network in all school buildings in Serbia. As a result, we are going to have a total of 30,000 digital school cabinets. We will also continue with the digitalization of the entire tourist offer in Serbia through the creation of a unique digital platform. In the commerce sector, we will continue to contribute to boosting fair market competition and creating a greater offer of retail chains, and in particular, by working on greater consumer protection.
What are your first impressions after the start of the implementation of the Roaming Agreement, which brought about lower roaming prices in the Western Balkans?
The regional agreement on roaming charges, which was concluded in April 2019 at the Second Digital Summit of the Western Balkans in Belgrade, had extremely positive results and both individuals and businesses are quite satisfied with it. Now, thanks to the agreement, individuals can make calls, send text messages and transfer data at national prices. We believe that this is an important step in achieving regional digital integration, but also that in the future, the agreement will generate even better results for individuals and the entire business sector.