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Sanja Ivanić, CEO Of The French-Serbian Chamber Of Commerce, CCIFS

The Pandemic Didn’t Stop Us Promoting Serbia

We are satisfied with the large growth of the trade exchange between France and Serbia since 2010, and I hope we’ve also contributed to that. However, we should give most of the thanks to the improved business climate, the growth of the Serbian economy, and particularly the fact that the Republic of Serbia is an EU membership candidate country, because that’s an element that instils confidence among foreign investors.

When observing the activities of the French-Serbian Chamber of Commerce (CCIFS), one gets the impression that connecting online during the pandemic provided plenty of space to present Serbia’s potentials to numerous French interlocutors. And this is also confirmed for us by CCIFS CEO Sanja Ivanić: “one of our priorities is to present Serbia and its economic potentials to French companies, which we realise successfully through conferences and B2B meetings. This year we twice participated in the Business Booster Forum, which is organised by CCI France International. An online version of the forum was held, encompassing more than 30 thematic webinars, with more than 50 prestigious speakers and more than 1,000 participants.”

“During the Forum, our speaker had the opportunity to lead the workshop “Serbia, new industrial hub in the heart of Europe” and to present Serbia’s potentials to foreign investors. The CCIFS also works closely with six other Central European chambers, with which it promotes our zone as an ideal destination for sourcing and nearshoring. We jointly organised five workshops for French and international companies, as well as several networking events for our members,” explains Ivanić.

The trade exchange between Serbia and France is recording constant growth. Thus, this exchange exceeded the value of a billion euros in 2019, and in 2020, despite the crisis, we remained above the billion-euro mark. We hope that 2021 will be even better

To what extent have these methods of online connection created space for you to function more efficiently as a chamber? What would you retain from them when the pandemic abates?

Online connection methods really changed the world during the pandemic. I can state unreservedly that digitalisation has accelerated our working and operational process. Communication became easier because everyone switched to online communication. In the cases when our partners are outside Serbia, online methods really make it easier for us, giving us the opportunity to organise meetings and conferences with people from all over the world, without logistical hindrances. Of course, we can hardly wait to return to normal, but I believe that we’ll also retain some positive things that came from this process. The zoomization of society is, I believe, permanent – fortunately or unfortunately!

How much has the trade exchange between Serbia and France suffered over the past year?

These relations have been improving constantly since 2000, when diplomatic relations between Serbia and France were re-established. And since 2010, when the Interim Trade Agreement came into force, the trade exchange between Serbia and France has been recording constant growth. This trade exchange exceeded the value of a billion euros in 2019, and in 2020, despite the crisis, we remained above the billion-euro mark in exchange. We hope that 2021 will be even better.

We are ready to follow the further development of cooperation between our two economies at the operational level, which is why the visit of French Foreign Trade and Economic Attractiveness Minister Franck Riester was followed by a MEDEF delegation comprising more than 20 French companies

This trade exchange has more than doubled since 2010, when the Interim Trade Agreement between the European Union and Serbia came into force. In your opinion, how much has the work of the chamber contributed to these results?

You’re correct. We are satisfied with the huge growth of the exchange between France and Serbia since 2010, and I hope that we also contributed to that growth. This is certainly a joint effort of all stakeholders, both the French Embassy and the CCIFS, but it’s primarily thanks to a better business climate, growth of the Serbian economy, and particularly the fact that the Republic of Serbia is an EU membership candidate country, because that’s an element that instils confidence among foreign investors.

How much have new doors to cooperation been opened by the increasingly intensive meetings at the highest political level of late? Apart from the visit of French Foreign Trade and Economic Attractiveness Minister Franck Riester late last year, in 2021 we also had a visit from MEDEF. As the Mouvement des entreprises de France, or the Movement of the Enterprises of France, MEDEF is the largest association of employers in France, and the delegation that visited Belgrade included representatives of more than 20 French companies. This is a big step in terms of our bilateral relations, and we are now awaiting its continuation at the operational level.

Physical connections between businesspeople are still difficult to maintain. When, in your opinion, can normalisation be expected in this area?

We hope that the situation will be significantly better by the coming autumn. In the case that the vaccination process continues according to plan, we are still hopeful that complete normalisation will only come next year. In that sense, we are working actively to promote vaccination – I believe you’ve all seen the campaign we did together with the Serbian Association of Managers “Let’s not postpone our meetings, let’s get vaccinated!”