Here we discuss strengthening cooperation in agriculture, easier access to third markets, European integration as a common goal of the two countries, investment and interest among Croatian companies in Serbia and vice versa, as well as Croatia’s readiness to support Serbia in its efforts to join the EU by sharing its experience gained during the EU accession process with Davor Romić, Minister of Agriculture of the Republic of Croatia.
Cooperation between Croatia and Serbia in the areas of agriculture and food processing are very important for both countries. In your opinion, what steps should be taken to strengthen this form of cooperation?
– It is in the interests of both sides for this cooperation between our two countries to be robust and strong. So far we have achieved significant cooperation in the process of European integration, while the mutual interest of both countries is to further deepen and enhance existing cooperation in the field of agriculture. Given that Serbia and Croatia were once both members of the same community, parts of the same country, we know each other, and when you know someone well it is easier to collaborate with them. And there is space for cooperation! Croatia is now a member of the European Union, which was preceded by a long and somewhat tiring journey. That resulted in us gaining vast experience and the huge benefits that Croatia now has as a member of the European Union, and we are ready to share this experience and transfer it to our colleagues from Serbia. In that way we want to help Serbia in the process of acceding to the EU and on its European path, and we, as the Croatian Ministry of agriculture and the Croatian Government, are ready to cooperate.
Croatia’s experiences in EU accession negotiations in the field of agriculture are extremely valuable for Serbia and its own accession process. How important are these lessons?
– On its European path, Croatia had the opportunity to use EU programmes, such as ISPA, Phare and SAPARD, and today, under the auspices of the common agricultural policy, we have a rural development programme. This represented a great opportunity for Croatia, in which our path was marked out, and our European path has been mapped out in order for us to be competitive on the European market, and for us to be able to play the game on this large market, to which we have always claimed to belong.
At this moment, as a member of the European Union, we have available in the rural development programme nearly 2.6 billion euros, which we should invest in our rural area. That journey, even in our experience, is not easy, on it there are always some “bumps” you need to jump over, to overcome, conquer, bypass … we succeeded in doing this by learning from other older members of the EU. The experiences we gained along the way helped us to see what is not good, and the possibility always exists for that which is done well to help at least a little. Those realisations can really be beneficial for Serbia and we are willing to generously share them with our colleagues in Serbia.
Due to the increasing need for food in the world, agricultural production represents a great development opportunity for Serbia and for Croatia. Do you see in this domain a favourable climate for possible partnership between the two countries in approaching third markets?
– Everyone is seeking a way out and a way to approach third markets. Particularly good opportunities for cooperation between our countries, when it comes to agriculture, exist in the field of fruit production. Given that Croatia is more geared towards some of our own productions, especially those that are specific for Croatian agriculture and vice versa, Serbia favours the production of that which is characteristic to agriculture in Serbia. For instance, Croatia is a significant producer of mandarin oranges (in which record yields are expected this year), while Serbia has good experience in producing raspberries. This creates the opportunity for us to jointly approach the Serbian market and some other markets. The Croatian position and the position of Serbia in the world provide opportunities for joint cooperation, especially when we bear in mind the changes that are happening in the world, such as the Russian embargo on Turkey, Turkish the embargo imposed on Russia, then relations between the European Union and Turkey … There the door is open for cooperation and a lot of Croatian companies are today operating in Serbia, as well as the other way around. Business and jobs are, thus, open; both countries have free markets, which enables businesspeople to find good solutions and establish good agreements.
So far we have achieved significant cooperation in the process of European integration, while the mutual interest of both countries is to further deepen and enhance existing cooperation in the field of agriculture
It is known that Croatian businesspeople have free access to the Serbian market, where they are present in large numbers. Although in Croatia the free market rules apply, a large number of Serbian companies failed to fight for a place on the market of this neighbouring country. What needs to happen for that to change and for the presence of Serbian companies in Croatia to increase?
– Croatia is committed to the free market, and that means all foreign companies that have the ability, desire and intention to open their representative offices in Croatia are welcome. There is nothing of dispute in that and no obstacles, even in bureaucracy. Businesspeople always find business routes, and find a way to approach them, and then they find solutions and possibilities to do a good job. We are an open country; we respect everyone who wants to come to our country with a desire to invest in our territory and all the who want to do business with us. Once again, as Croatian Minister of agriculture, at this juncture, and as a member of the Croatian Government, I will repeat – we are open to all forms of cooperation.
We live in a time of privatisation. How would you comment on the pros and cons of privatising large domestic agricultural and food capacities?
– Privatisation is a question for the owner. That which is strategically important for a country should remain under state ownership. Every nation must take account of its strategic values, its resources, natural blessings, valuables … Everything else is on the open, free market. It is necessary to manage resources with the wisdom of good management. To privatise does not only mean to sell, but rather to invest. If you invest, you can expect to improve an enterprise, with which you will automatically raise its value. Privatisation is a very good process. However, unfortunately, this process can be painful for many, but is generally necessary in order for a company to survive and be able to cope with market competition. In addition, I must say that all privatisation is in some way painful, though without having to be emotional, it is necessary to be realistic and to carry that out in the interests of society. These are definitely business decisions that should be done in accordance with the interests of the social development of a country.
Food production and the food security of a state, as well as trade with the world, determine, among other things, the manifold significance of agriculture in terms of socio-economic development. Is this fact in itself a reason for discontentment with the privatisation of agricultural and food capacities, of which, for example, almost every third has been conducted unsuccessfully in Serbia?
– Agriculture plays an important role in every country. Food production and food security are of great importance … No major country in the world cold have developed unless it developed its agriculture. And when it comes to the form of agricultural production they will opt for, the agrarian path along which an individual country wants to travel, these are decisions that they make on their own. In this t is important that each country adequately use the resources that they have in agriculture. Merely possessing resources – if they are not properly utilised – does not bring any profits. We can only achieve social development if we achieve the level of competitiveness and if we are competitive in production. Croatia has a chance to compete on the market of the European Union, which has 550 million inhabitants, and thus compete with all those countries that have developed their agricultural production over centuries. We must lead our own agricultural production towards being more competitive on this market, and we will only achieve that if we offer something that is specific to our country. It is possible to survive on the great world markets provided you are competitive in terms of amounts or with something that will set you apart from others: quality, products that have protected designation of origin, but certainly something that will make you specific in relation to others, make you special… A product which is interesting locally or regionally, by which you will be more recognisable, different … If you think and work in that direction, and if it proves successful, you can certainly be competitive on the large market.
Croatia is committed to the free market, and that means all foreign companies that have the ability, desire and intention to open their representative offices in Croatia are welcome. There is nothing of dispute in that and no obstacles, even in bureaucracy
In which way do you think in that direction?
– Some of our companies can be competitive with the technology they apply. Unfortunately, this is not true for all. Our society as a whole is not yet at that level in terms of technology whereby it can be competitive on the large European market. That’s why we develop our original indigenous products, which will be sold on our tourism market, which is huge. I consider this is additional motivation, because today we have 14.5 million tourists who come to Croatia and whom we want to offer that which makes us special; that which they will remember us for and that which will ensure they want to come to our country again. This is the road we have embarked upon, and along that road we see benefits for our country.
Thanks to the Adriatic Sea, fishing is traditionally the most important economic activity of the Croatian coastal area, and that forms an indispensable segment of the country’s tourism industry.
– We are a country with a long coastline and as such we have and cherish marine culture. In addition to agriculture, fishing is also very important for us. Fishing is our great advantage and today we export significant amounts of our tuna to the Japanese market, as well as exporting white fish to the EU market. These are our competitive activities in agriculture, in this case fisheries, and in my opinion we have made huge strides forward in this area. In recent times Croatia has paid great attention to this domain and invests a lot in both continental and freshwater fisheries. In these two segments we see our opportunity and our future.
When it comes to the future, we should also mention that you have large companies in the food industry that are of strategic interest to Croatia. What do you expect from them in the coming period?
– Our Large food companies, which are present on regional and other markets, are also specific to us. That is why we are endeavouring to save them; we want them to continue to be successful companies and, of course, to do business successfully. We are currently working on a big project which we called “Adopt a strategy, make a path”, which doesn’t merely means “adopt a piece of paper”, but rather it mean to draw a path that we want to travel along. With this in mind we, as a reform orientated Croatian government, decided to develop our strategy by year’s end, both in the domain of agriculture and the area of the food industry, which must be synchronised, as two compatible industries.