The attractiveness of a market from an investors’ perspective is measured by a safe political, legal and economic setting, but also by ratings and analyses by relevant and respectable international institutions and organizations. Serbia fairs well on both plans and German companies are ready to support the Government on the reform path, says Dr. Ronald Seeliger, president of the Executive board of the German-Serbian Chamber of Commerce.
From your perspective, what are the most important reform priorities for the new government of Serbia?
When reforms are in question, it is very important to bear in mind that the Government of Serbia has been dedicated to the European course of the country and that ’recognitions’ for such a firm attitude have already arrived in the form of opening several important negotiation chapters, in a very short time. It is, in a way, a confirmation of the reform course and good direction that Serbia has chosen.
What is imperative, in my opinion, which I also mentioned in my communication with representatives of institutions and about which I have spoken in public, is the consistent implementation of what has already been adopted and the continuation of work on the announced changes. For me, as a businessman and as a director of the leading pharmaceutical company in the market, the effects of reforms are very important, meaning the speeding up of administration and the issuance of licences, the complete implementation of the adopted legal norms that will lead to final positive changes in the legal system of the country. So it all means that the atmosphere of economic certainty of business operations is what matters.
Of course, another thing which should not be specifically emphasized but I am going to mention is the fight against corruption. We, and when I say ‘we’ I refer to German companies, are ready on our part, and we have emphasized that many times, to help the implementation of reform. Experience tells me that fundamental change and the consequent improvement of the economic setting is only possible in a partnership relation of economy and institutions. It is a situation in which domestic investors think about new investments and foreign investors think about coming to Serbia in order to further develop their business. I think that we are already on that path.
How important for German businesspeople already operating in the country and potential investors is the fact that the IMF recently approved the 4th and 5th revisions of the arrangement with Serbia and that further macroeconomic projections are favourable?
The same as negotiations with the EU, the arrangement with the IMF represents a significant signal for the business community that economic and financial development are not only positive but such that it is possible to anticipate things and plan strategically and in the long run.
How much do German businesspeople that operate in Serbia feel the impact of reform and the relatively positive indicators of economic growth in their operations?
German companies have so far invested more than EUR 1.8 billion and employ here about 30,000 people. During the last 15 years, Germany donated more than EUR 1.7 billion in financial assistance to Serbia. This year, we have established the German-Serbian Chamber of Commerce, binding the German investors more firmly to Serbia in institutional terms. All of this is not the result of personal hints and instincts, although that too is sometimes important for business, but rather exact data on trends in the economy. There is a distinct willingness to implement reforms in a full scope.
The German-Serbian Chamber of Commerce is the true representative of the interests of both German and Serbian companies, and at the same time an interlocutor and partner of the Government in reform processes
In this context, what do you consider as being the priorities of the business community when it comes to fulfilling the obligations arising from the opening of chapters 23 and 24?
Opening of chapters 32 and 35 had a great psychological impact on the atmosphere in the society. Although I am not formally a Serbian citizen, I have been working here for years now, and I felt this positive energy related to the opening of the negotiation chapters. However, the opening of chapters 23 and 24, which are often regarded the most important ones, the Alpha and Omega in a process of a country’s joining the European Union, is the undoubted progress on such a path. When the decision about the 23rd and 24th chapter was made in July, I understood that the EU had expressed also assurances that strategically Serbia is undoubtedly on the path to membership and an estimation that it is an irreversible process.
How much does the opening of the German-Serbian Chamber of Commerce contribute to a more positive image of Serbia from the perspective of German companies?
The German-Serbian Chamber of Commerce is the first bilateral chamber of commerce in Serbia. The idea for the transformation from an association into a chamber was initiated by the German and Serbian Governments, and this speaks for itself about the interest of German companies to invest in Serbia. The establishment of the Chamber has been a clear sign that Serbia is a reliable partner, a fact also proven by the Chamber’s management through work in their companies, which are a bridge for further cooperation.
Its establishment represented both the continuity of cooperation and at the same time a new beginning. Four months since its establishment, we can say that we have already passed into a continuity zone because we have developed new ideas about the improvement of bilateral relations between the two countries, with a focus on mutual improvement in the business, investment and trade climates. In forming this kind of association, German businesspeople, members of the Chamber of Commerce, have additionally expressed their attitudes about doing business in Serbia and their own economic future, which they have in a way tied to this country.
Speaking about these things, I would like to mention also the example of STADA and Hemofarm. By the decision of the STADA Group, as an expression of trust and confirmation of the excellent position of Hemofarm in the regional market, and primarily as the result of good operations of the company that I manage, Hemofarm has recently become the regional centre of STADA in the market of South East Europe.
By this new reorganization that you mention, Hemofarm has not only become the centre of STADA for the South East Europe, but the CEO of Hemofarm has been appointed as Vice President of the STADA Group. These are two pieces of good news. What has in your opinion influenced crucially such decisions?
Changes in the global pharmaceutical market and successes of Hemofarm. Up till now, STADA was organized in three zones: Western Europe, Germany and East. After serious analyses, we estimated that the different rearrangement of regional responsibilities would be better. Within a decade of its operations within the STADA Group, Hemofarm has positioned itself as a reliable and responsible partner and become a strategically important link between STADA and certain markets. Medicines with Hemofarm’s brand travel to three continents, to more than 30 countries, therefore the shareholders of STADA have made a good decision to make Hemofarm the Center for South East Europe. By our knowledge, experts, logistics and good management processes we will be responsible for markets of more than 10 countries where more than 3,500 people are employed.
Due to our knowledge, experts, logistics and good management processes, Hemofarm as the regional centre of STADA in the SEE market will be responsible for the markets of more than 10 countries and 3,500 employees
How could the formation of the Council of mixed chambers of commerce contribute to a better and more effective dialogue between the government and businesspeople, and speeding up the process of improving the business environment?
The establishment of the German-Serbian Chamber of Commerce is a significant step forward in the economic cooperation between the two countries, within good and comprehensive relations. The chamber is also the true representative of the interests of both German and Serbian companies and at the same time interlocutor and partner of the Government in the reform processes. The creation of the German-Serbian Chamber of Commerce was a desire of the governments of the two countries and this mutual desire has been realized to institutionalize and improve the business and economic cooperation. The previous priorities within the existing business associations and agreements about representing the German economy remain the same, but the Chamber is a better base for articulating such interests and providing services to companies from both countries.
Here is another example of cooperation with local institutions. Since the year 2016 was declared The Year of Entrepreneurship, the Chamber is helping, in cooperation with companies, the application of the German experience in implementing dual education in Serbia. Companies wishing to invest in Serbia are also in focus of our work in the Chamber. In the last two or three years, German companies created about 5,000 jobs.