The founders of the CBC branch in Serbia talk about the reasons for the establishment of the CBC office in Serbia 15 years ago.
We talked with Tonči Staničić, the person who initiated the inception of the Croatian Business Club’s (CBC) branch in Serbia, and Krunoslav Bešvir, the first president of the CBC in Serbia and Director of the Culinary Business Programme at PODRAVKA d.d., about what it is like to be one of the founders and the first president of CBC, as well as economic relations between the two countries.
Tonči Staničić, the initiator of establishing CBC’s branch in Serbia and former Croatian Ambassador to Serbia
As co-founders, the Croatian Embassy and the Croatian Chamber of Economy in Belgrade decided to establish the Club because we had invested a lot of effort into improving economic relations between the two countries. Our partners in Serbia, businesspeople and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia had the same ambition, so the result of the joint effort was excellent – we have been recording a significant increase in bilateral trade and investments year on year. The then-new, well-structured Free Trade Agreement also contributed to this.
I am happy that CBC is not only alive and healthy after 15 years, but that it also continues to significantly help the business partners of Croatia and Serbia to do what we all live off, and that is business. I rate our economic relations as good. However, by assessing the situation from a distance, I have noticed that diplomats, businesspeople, chamber leaders and others have been repeating the same phrase for years – “the relations are good, but can be better”. Ambassador Biščević used a good term – „stable stagnation“. I would say they have to be better because good is not enough since the economic relations between Croatia and Serbia have great potential.
The fact remains that there are problems in political relations, as well as that some problems are created on purpose. Some people are still in the civil war and Second World War in their heads. Perhaps the solution is for the economy to move forward and force politics to follow suit.
Krunoslav Bešvir, the first president of the CBC in Serbia and Director of the Culinary Business Programme at PODRAVKA d.d.
The basic idea of establishing CBC was to improve economic relations and boost economic cooperation between the two countries. The focus was primarily on commerce and investments, but also beyond. It is clear that, as a Club, we have invested a lot of effort into improving the business conditions for Croatian companies that have opened branches in Serbia. At the same time, new investors in the Seian economy were accepted by the Serbian authorities in a very befitting way, because, these are Serbian companies founded with Croatian capital, which employ domicile people and create new value in Serbia. Precisely for these reasons and the desire to normalize relations between the two countries, we have received great support from the Government of the Republic of Serbia, whose deputy PMs and ministers were often guests at professional meetings we organized.
Back then, we also saw the first major investments and takeovers of domestic companies by Croatian investors taking place, which, in turn, were excellent examples of how the business operations of companies in the new ownership structure can be improved. I can vouch for the same even today when it comes to the development that these companies have experienced in the last 15 years.
“Today’s economic relations between Serbia and Croatia are good, but, without a doubt, they can be even better and more dynamic”
Because of all of the aforementioned, I think that the establishment of the Croatian Business Club was an excellent initiative by the Croatian Chamber of Economy, the Embassy of the Republic of Croatia, headed by Ambassador Tonči Staničić, and a group of businesspeople who recognized the need and opportunity to improve working conditions through such an association. The fact that we were contacted and our meetings were attended by Serbian businesspeople, who wanted to start a business in Croatia, confirms that we did well.
Today’s economic relations between Serbia and Croatia are good. Without a doubt, they can be even better and more dynamic, especially in the IT industry where both countries are strong, but also in traditional industries such as food, metal processing or construction. In the years to come, I believe that Croatia will be Serbia’s partner on its road to EU membership, which will further accelerate economic cooperation and facilitate the flow of goods, and which positive effects will also lead to reducing brain drain in both countries, particularly among young people.