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Mihailo Vesović, Director Of The Division for Strategic Analyses, Services and Internationalisation at The Chamber Of Commerce & Industry Of Serbia

Strong Ties Weren’t Threatened By The Pandemic

Considering that the strong growth of economic activities is predicted in Austria for 2021, as well as a recovery of the consumer trend, we should expect the growth of Austrian investments in countries that are its traditional trade partners. That should certainly be seen as an opportunity for Serbia.

Immediately upon the outbreak of the coronavirus epidemic, one of the biggest challenges to maintaining Serbian-Austrian economic cooperation was maintaining unhindered trade activities and enabling unhindered and continuous transport under circumstances that were marked by the introduction of various restrictive measures that related to the partial or complete closing of borders, the introducing of various rules related to the control of the health condition of drivers, the withdrawal of air transport and restrictions on the movements of workers.

“It should be emphasised that the outstanding efforts of the Chamber of Commerce & Industry of Serbia, through its representative office in Austria, as well as all institutions in the chain of international cooperation that partly participated in creating new procedures and procedures, enabled – under the shortest possible deadline – the continuation of the transporting of goods during this period,” says Mihailo Vesović, Director of the Division for Strategic Analyses, Services and Internationalisation at the Chamber of Commerce & Industry of Serbia, continuing: “although trade between the two countries has largely recovered since the first wave of the pandemic, there is a noticeable decrease in consumption among the population, so in the period ahead we should certainly expect the adopting of measures that would impact positively on the growth of consumption”.

How do the two chambers help connect businesspeople under the new conditions?

– Cooperation between the two chambers has remained intensive even under the altered conditions, but it was necessary to introduce new ways of communicating. The beginning of the crisis was marked by constant communication on ways to ensure the continued functioning of transport corridors, as well as the easier implementation of new procedures that accompanied the newly emerged situation. 

Both chambers exerted remarkable efforts to ensure the continuous, 24-hour, availability of data and information on changes to regimes.

The launch of various platforms for exchanging information and data on the availability of certain types of goods that were in short supply was particularly important for overcoming bottlenecks that arose due to the crisis situation. It should be stressed that, through cooperation between the two chambers, digital communication between companies has been enabled, primarily through the participation and placement of information on digital stock exchanges that were initiated by both chambers.

During the period of the pandemic we’ve encountered numerous difficulties in the implementation of dual education, but we’ve also received support from our Austrian colleagues

How is this new situation reflected in the inflow of Austrian investments in Serbia?

– Measures that were taken by the state authorities of both countries, with the aim of preventing the spread of the virus, brought Austrian investment in Serbia to a halt, but what is encouraging is that there is still great interest among Austrian investors. According to the stats of the National Bank of Serbia, the net value of Austrian investments for the first six months of 2020 totalled 65.8 million euros. On the other hand, the Austrian government is certainly taking efforts to stimulate its investors and for this purpose has allocated incentive funds amounting to a billion euros, which have been available since 1st August this year and which will subsidise part of the funds invested by domestic investors in their own country.

Considering that the strong growth of economic activities is predicted in Austria for 2021, as well as a recovery of the consumer trend, we should expect the growth of Austrian investments in countries that are its traditional trade partners. The current crisis has also highlighted the need to relocate the production capacities of some key industries that are dislocated from the European continent. Thus, relocating production operations from Asia and the Far East closer to the European Union should certainly be seen as an opportunity for Serbia, which stands out as a logical destination thanks to its favourable geographical position, conditions for doing business and international free trade agreements. 

How is your cooperation with the Austrian Chamber organised under the new conditions?

– Cooperation with the Austrian Chamber of Commerce is largely realised through the representative office of the Chamber of Commerce & Industry of Serbia in Vienna, but also in direct communication. Considering the restrictions in terms of movements and the impossibility of organising visits of institutional and economic delegations, communication between businesspeople and officials takes place via online platforms.

Mihailo Vesović

We should mention in particular the exceptional cooperation and contribution of the two chambers in designing the package of economic measures that both countries have introduced, and which are intended to aid economic recovery and the preserving of economic flows.

What would you point out in particular when it comes to joint work on the digitalisation of the Serbian economy?

– One of the first steps towards establishing a model of support for digital transformation was the establishment of the CCIS’s Centre for Digital Transformation (CDT) and the creation of a network of consultants with knowhow and experience in processes related to the digitalization of entire operations. 

The development and establishment of this centre was supported by GIZ – the German Organization for International Cooperation, and the Austrian Chamber of Commerce – WKO, while the CDT’s activities are aimed at ensuring the efficient digitalisation of the Serbian economy through education, consulting and the creating of strategic partnerships with technology leaders, on the one hand, and companies that would apply these solutions in their operations, on the other. Since the establishment (CDT) in 2018, 43 consultants and 6 CDT trainers for digital transformation have been certified according to the standard ISO 17024. In excess of 750 companies have applied to participate in the CDT’s programmes, 300 of which are companies that are in the process of developing and implementing digital strategies, while 130 companies have already implemented digital solutions in their operations.

Through cooperation between the two chambers, digital communication between companies has been enabled, primarily through the participation and placement of information on digital stock

You are included in the organising of dual education with employers in Serbia. What challenges have you faced during this school year and what kind of advice did you receive from your Austrian colleagues?

– The dual education system is extremely important when it comes to cooperation with Austria. One of the preconditions for enticing a larger number of Austrian investments in Serbia is a qualified workforce, and the applying of the dual education model in our country should contribute to this. Through the CCIS and Austria Chambers project, since February 2017 the Trade School in Belgrade has organised education for an entire generation of first year pupils in the three-year subject of trader, including 120 pupils, who underwent trained for traders according to the dual model and had work placement training at Delhaize, dm drogerie market, Univerexport, Mercator S, VIP mobile and Metro. Since the start of the 2018 academic year, in addition to traders, the start of implementation of the educational profile of logistics and forwarding technician began, while the 2019 academic year saw the start of the implementation of the educational profile of basic construction works operator.

Testifying to the exceptional cooperation in this field is the support of the Austrian Development Agency, which supported the continuation of the project, worth 1.8 million euros, which will be implemented over the next four years. And in addition to the existing Austrian and Serbian Chamber partners, the project also includes the participation of the Institute for Advancing Education and the German-Serbian Chamber of Commerce. This project, which is of national importance and has the support of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development, should enable the full implementation of the Law on Dual Education.

During the period of the pandemic, which made it more difficult to do business in all fields, we’ve encountered numerous difficulties in the implementation of dual education, especially when it comes to issuing confirmations on the fulfilling of conditions for learning through work placements with an employer, partly due to visits to employers becoming more difficult, which for the same reasons makes it difficult to organise training for instructors in dual education.

In the context of overcoming the challenges, our colleagues from Austria provided us with great support in the development of online training of instructors, in order for the accreditation process to be able to run smoothly. Furthermore, they also shared with us their guidelines and regulations related to the organising of activities in the field of dual education during the mentioned epidemiological situation, which imply recommendations for the organising of activities while taking into account the health status of all participants.

What are your priorities for this cooperation in 2021?

– Next year, which is forecast to bring strong economic growth for both countries, is certainly a year that should be used to further strengthen economic cooperation. According to estimates taken prior to the outbreak of the global pandemic, 2020 should have been another in the series of record-breaking years when it comes to economic exchange between the two countries. In the last three years, since the economic exchange between Austria and Serbia first exceeded a billion euros, trade between the two countries has been increasing continuously. According to the Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia, foreign trade between Serbia and Austria amounted to 688 million euros in the first eight months of 2020, which is a fall of almost 15% compared to the same period of 2019. That’s why our goal is for Serbian and Austrian economic cooperation during 2021 to reach the results of 2019, where a trade exchange of 1.3 billion euros was realised (including exports worth 567 million euros and imports worth 674 million euros).